Is it time for a change regarding fire safety laws and transparency?

Learning Centre > Is it time for a change regarding fire safety laws and transparency?

That brutal morning will be forever seared into the hearts of the people. Whether it leaves the same scar in the seat of British law and politics is still to be seen.

That brutal morning will be forever seared into the hearts of the people. Whether it leaves the same scar in the seat of British law and politics is still to be seen.That brutal morning will be forever seared into the hearts of the people. Whether it leaves the same scar in the seat of British law and politics is still to be seen.
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The blackened and charred concrete shell of Grenfell became a pivot point in British politics within minutes of hitting the headlines, a stark symbol of inequality and injustice, and a horrifying example of bureaucratic procrastination and red tape.

As the news broke that Wednesday morning, my first thought was, “again?”

That brutal morning will be forever seared into the hearts of the people. Whether it leaves the same scar in the seat of British law and politics is still to be seen.

We all know the tale of Lakanal. How refurbishments performed with all good intent and without the apparent cost-cutting in Grenfell’s case ironically resulted in the compromise in fire safety of the building and lending assistance to the cause of six deaths. Yet, it was eight long years after this devastating incident before the prosecutor’s gavel finally hit the sounding block.

It’s an all-too-common issue in the fire safety management sphere:

While being the most extensive revision of fire safety guidance since 1971, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order: 2005 was a bold move. One that relieved the strained fire and rescue services of some responsibility and placed it in the hands of the newly created “Responsible Person”, a move that was intended to remove multiple and overlapping fire safety provisions and replace them with a single fire safety arrangement.

The aim was to reduce complexity. To de-jargon the technical and crucial nature of fire safety. And to make this new figurehead, the “Responsible Person”, shoulder the responsibility of deciding and following through with the fire safety arrangements instead of the local fire service.

In a typically British fashion, the reduction of complexity brought doubt. Over ten years since the RRO came in, there is still doubt about who is ultimately responsible for fire safety on-premises.

While sharing some of the lessons identified at Lakanal with housing management and building control professionals, experts told London Fire Brigade in July 2014 that increased competition had affected the performance of this vital function. Council building control teams said they were understaffed. The prices they tendered were not high enough to provide the work properly. The competition had forced reduced rigour to win work, and specifications were cracked.

Those who aren’t experts but are responsible for results need to know the right questions to ask to fulfil that responsibility.

Fire safety laws are complex, and responsibilities for their adherence are spread across many agencies and individuals. So there’s no doubt that there’s room for confusion in the current format of the UK’s fire safety laws, guidelines, and policies.

I believe that the Grenfell inquiry should recommend that councils be responsible for producing an annual report on fire safety in their areas. They should know where assessments have been done in their jurisdiction, who has done them, and what the outcome was.

The duty should be laid on fire authorities to provide councils with information about enforcement action proactively. Councils should be told when buildings fail, and councils should be held accountable for the follow-through to achieve compliance.

Some fires can be made abundantly worse by the buildings themselves and what has been done to them than fires resulting from actions such as smoking, cooking, or exploring appliances. London Fire Brigade used to collect this type of data, but FOI doesn’t often publish it. It’s overdue for that to change. In addition, there should be more fire investigators paid for by the government.

We rely on our fire services to send brave men and women to save lives in even the worst and most dangerous fires. Grenfell proved that our firefighters are more than ready to go over and above their call of duty, risking their own lives in the saving of others.

A step-change in public policy, review, and accountability is desperately needed to reduce the number of fires that start in the first place. It’s required to ensure that they cause as minor damage to the property and danger to people as possible when they do. The Grenfell Tower disaster, just like the Lakanal House tragedy eight years before it, shows that we are still failing in this vital task.

It never needed the ashes of Lakanal and Grenfell to make this change happen.

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The blackened and charred concrete shell of Grenfell became a pivot point in British politics within minutes of hitting the headlines, a stark symbol of inequality and injustice, and a horrifying example of bureaucratic procrastination and red tape.

As the news broke that Wednesday morning, my first thought was, “again?”

That brutal morning will be forever seared into the hearts of the people. Whether it leaves the same scar in the seat of British law and politics is still to be seen.

We all know the tale of Lakanal. How refurbishments performed with all good intent and without the apparent cost-cutting in Grenfell’s case ironically resulted in the compromise in fire safety of the building and lending assistance to the cause of six deaths. Yet, it was eight long years after this devastating incident before the prosecutor’s gavel finally hit the sounding block.

It’s an all-too-common issue in the fire safety management sphere:

  • There isn’t enough transparency.
  • Responsibilities are too dispersed and detached.
  • There are few, if any, proper systems to ensure accountability.

While being the most extensive revision of fire safety guidance since 1971, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order: 2005 was a bold move. One that relieved the strained fire and rescue services of some responsibility and placed it in the hands of the newly created “Responsible Person”, a move that was intended to remove multiple and overlapping fire safety provisions and replace them with a single fire safety arrangement.

The aim was to reduce complexity. To de-jargon the technical and crucial nature of fire safety. And to make this new figurehead, the “Responsible Person”, shoulder the responsibility of deciding and following through with the fire safety arrangements instead of the local fire service.

In a typically British fashion, the reduction of complexity brought doubt. Over ten years since the RRO came in, there is still doubt about who is ultimately responsible for fire safety on-premises.

While sharing some of the lessons identified at Lakanal with housing management and building control professionals, experts told London Fire Brigade in July 2014 that increased competition had affected the performance of this vital function. Council building control teams said they were understaffed. The prices they tendered were not high enough to provide the work properly. The competition had forced reduced rigour to win work, and specifications were cracked.

Those who aren’t experts but are responsible for results need to know the right questions to ask to fulfil that responsibility.

Fire safety laws are complex, and responsibilities for their adherence are spread across many agencies and individuals. So there’s no doubt that there’s room for confusion in the current format of the UK’s fire safety laws, guidelines, and policies.

I believe that the Grenfell inquiry should recommend that councils be responsible for producing an annual report on fire safety in their areas. They should know where assessments have been done in their jurisdiction, who has done them, and what the outcome was.

The duty should be laid on fire authorities to provide councils with information about enforcement action proactively. Councils should be told when buildings fail, and councils should be held accountable for the follow-through to achieve compliance.

Some fires can be made abundantly worse by the buildings themselves and what has been done to them than fires resulting from actions such as smoking, cooking, or exploring appliances. London Fire Brigade used to collect this type of data, but FOI doesn’t often publish it. It’s overdue for that to change. In addition, there should be more fire investigators paid for by the government.

We rely on our fire services to send brave men and women to save lives in even the worst and most dangerous fires. Grenfell proved that our firefighters are more than ready to go over and above their call of duty, risking their own lives in the saving of others.

A step-change in public policy, review, and accountability is desperately needed to reduce the number of fires that start in the first place. It’s required to ensure that they cause as minor damage to the property and danger to people as possible when they do. The Grenfell Tower disaster, just like the Lakanal House tragedy eight years before it, shows that we are still failing in this vital task.

It never needed the ashes of Lakanal and Grenfell to make this change happen.

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