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Construction industry must take fire safety “more seriously”

14 November 2017

LONDON FIRE Brigade (LFB) has warned that there will be an increase in serious building fires unless the construction industry starts to take fire safety more seriously.

The responsibility for ensuring buildings are constructed with proper fire safety measures sits with the construction industry and yet a general lack of competence means that dangerous decisions are being made about buildings’ design or construction.

Although LFB does not have any legal power to approve a building’s design nor does it have any role in checking how it has been constructed, its fire safety experts often face serious flaws when they inspect buildings including:

  • Significant construction defects – such as flawed compartmentation between flats which can allow fire and smoke to spread throughout buildings;
  • Critical fire safety systems – such as mechanical smoke ventilation- that either were not installed as per the original design, were poorly designed, or are not functional; and
  • People in control of buildings not understanding or even knowing what fire safety measures are in place, let alone how best to maintain them.

LFB has made recommendations to improve how the fire safety industry operates in a submission to Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review into building regulation and fire safety, commissioned following the Grenfell fire.

This includes closing a loophole that means that some very technical fire safety elements can be designed without the involvement of a competent fire safety professional for example escape routes Currently, what can and sometimes does happen, is that the designs are developed by those without sound knowledge of fire safety principles who are often neither qualified or suitably experienced in fire safety design. Other recommendations include:

  • Formal qualifications or accreditation for those who install life-saving systems like smoke ventilation and fire detection and alarms;
  • Clearer definition of who is responsible for what under fire safety legislation;
  • A clamp down on companies who act as a building control body as well as offering fire engineering design advice without clear separation between the two roles. Worse still, some of these companies advertise how quickly they can get designs through the building control process, promoting speed over proper scrutiny. There is a need for approving authorities to maintain their independence and impartiality within the process; and
  • A robust independent on-site inspection program that ensures the fire safety elements of a building’s design are translated into the finished construction.

LFB assistant commissioner for Fire Safety Dan Daly said: “It took a tragedy for everyone to take fire safety seriously and listen to what the Brigade has been saying for years about skills. Urgent action is needed to better regulate those who are responsible for ensuring a building’s design, construction and maintenance are fit for purpose.
“There are countless points where a dangerous decision can be made about a building’s design or upkeep and hardly any measures to ensure that the people making those decisions are sufficiently experienced and properly qualified.
“This means that potentially dangerous design flaws could exist within a building until we either find it at a later date, or in the worst case scenario, it is exposed by a serious fire.
“We don’t have the legal powers or the resources to check the entire fabric of a building but we often uncover dangerous flaws that we can’t ignore.

“We recognise that this is a once in a generation opportunity to make buildings safer and are actively supporting the review process. We have had a series of helpful meetings with Dame Judith Hackitt’s office and look forward to reading her interim report due before the end of the year.”

You can read the Brigade’s full submission to the Building Regulations review by clicking HERE.