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  1. ITV Report

'Culture change' needed to ensure building safety is prioritised over costs in wake of Grenfell Tower fire

Seventy-one people died when a fire tore through the west London block on June 14 Credit: PA

A "culture change" is needed to ensure building safety comes ahead of cost concerns in the construction industry, an inquiry ordered following the Grenfell Tower fire has found.

Dame Judith Hackitt has been carrying out a review of building regulations in the wake of the disaster, which raised fears the use of dangerous material on high-rise buildings was widespread.

Its interim findings were published on Monday and include a series of recommendations.

  • An overhaul of the "Approved Documents" in building regulations

Guidance material has been widely criticised as too vague and open to misinterpretation, particularly in relation to fire safety in tall buildings.

Key definitions, such as "limited combustibility",are unclear, leaving confusion over, for example, how flammable and non-flammable building material should be, the report said.

Dame Judith recommended the documents should be restructured to provide a "streamlined, holistic view" which retains technical detail.

It is thought cladding panels on the outside of Grenfell Tower fuelled the spread of the blaze Credit: PA
  • The introduction of an accreditation system to ensure competence

The review calls on professional and accreditation bodies to establish new protocols covering all areas of construction.

This should include, at a minimum, engineers, those installing fire safety systems or other critical safety systems, fire engineers, fire safety enforcing officers and building control inspectors.

  • The role of the fire and rescue services

Currently the fire service should be consulted on buildings covered by the Fire Safety Order, which covers high-rise towers but not individual houses.

The review found this "does not work as intended".

Building control bodies and those who are designing or commissioning buildings need to bring the advice of the fire service into the fold "early in the process," it said.

The interim report said advice from the fire service should be considered early on. Credit: PA
  • Reviews at the end of the building process

Before tenants move into a new high-rise residential block, a formal review should be carried out of the work done, the report recommended.

  • Fire safety information

In Grenfell Tower, there was confusion among residents about what to do in the event of a fire with a "stay put" policy in place unless the fire was in or affecting flats.

The review recommended that such advice is provided by the person completing work on a building directly to those managing it and evidence of the handover should be kept.

A fire action notice which was on display inside Grenfell Tower. Credit: PA
  • Fire risk assessments

Current guidelines suggest that fire risk assessments are carried out in high-rise buildings "regularly", but do specify how regularly.

Instead, they should be conducted "at least annually" and shared with residents and the fire service, the report said.

  • Product studies

New cladding systems are sometimes subjected to so-called desktop studies, which tests their fire resistance in isolated conditions, for example, by testing the cladding panels, but not the insulation behind it.

It is thought these produce results that do not reflect the reality as effectively as tests which examine them as a whole system.

Dame Judith recommended that the Government "significantly restrict the use of desktop studies to approve changes to cladding and other systems", ensuring they are only used appropriately and with "sufficient, relevant test evidence".

Safety tests were ordered on cladding on tower blocks across the UK after the Grenfell Tower fire. Credit: PA

Earlier, Dame Judith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme guidance a focus on cost-cutting was "one of the factors" flagged up by her inquiry.

It is suspected that pressure to drive down the price of refurbishing Grenfell Tower led to cheaper, flammable material being installed on its exterior.

A subsequent safety operation identified hundreds more buildings with similar cladding systems.

Those thought to feature the most flammable material were advised to remove the panels entirely.

The former health and safety chief said she had not yet looked at the detail of exactly what should be recommended to make sure that high-rise blocks are built safely, such as by adding fire sprinklers.

This will be examined in the next phase of the review, which hopes to rebuild the regulatory system and improve safety standards.

Dame Judith said: "Unless we achieve that culture change where people are doing things because we believe, and we are all committed, to making buildings safer rather than simply doing things at least cost and so on, those are some of the changes in culture that need to drive this, rather than newer and simpler regulations."

Regulators will now be brought together with the construction industry, councils and the Government to discuss change as part of the review's second stage in the new year.