The Inside Housing fire safety webinar that took place last month, discussed the new fire safety regulations implemented since Grenfell, and asked ‘Are the new regulations enough?’
Following the rise in fires over the past few weeks, one located at a tower block just half a mile from Grenfell, a care home in Crewe and Worcester Park London, it is timely to ask whether the sector has made any real progress since Grenfell to improve the fire safety of buildings, and most importantly, improve the safety of tenants. From our work in the sector, as well as from the webinar, it is clear that there is a need for greater urgency to establish a new, more effective, regulatory system that prioritises building safety in the long term.
What progress has been made?
Positively, the webinar reported that social housing landlords have been provided with £400 million of funding to help pay for essential remediation works, and there has been significant progress in this area, but the same cannot be said for private landlords, whose progress has been restricted by a notable lack of funding. The uneven funding distribution has fuelled unequal progress across the sector regarding the removal and replacement of cladding, and the subsequent improvements in fire safety.
The webinar commented on the Hackitt Report, noting the need for a new regulator of fire safety, who should have more robust enforcement powers and sanctions than the current regulatory structure. It also referred to the need for improved competency across the construction industry, to ensure that those individuals responsible for designing and constructing buildings, understand the fire safety regulations and the subsequent responsibilities that are placed upon them. In turn, it was suggested that this will shift responsibility for fire safety away from reliance on the Regulator of Social Housing and instead onto the dutyholder during construction.
What is new to the industry so far?
The webinar made positive reference to the recent ban on the use of combustible materials on all new high rise homes, and also praised the support that the government has put in place for local authorities to carry out emergency work to remove and replace unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. However, it was noted that the Local Government Association (LGA) is sceptical that the current testing processes have correctly identified those materials which are dangerous, meaning that these will continue to be reviewed over the next few months/years, in order to determine the true safety of such materials, and to provide reassurance to tenants.
A recurring topic throughout the webinar was the lack of clarity around new fire safety legislation, and the impact that these regulatory changes have had to people outside of the sector, with limited fire safety knowledge, to understand exactly what the changes mean to them. For example, the revisions to Approved Document B, although positive, are not always fully comprehensible to those within the construction industry, and require further clarification about what the changes mean. Education of private owners, business managers and service providers alike, was therefore noted during the webinar as being essential to ensure that people are aware that although buildings can look the same, the methods and materials that go into making them, might mean they respond differently to fire.
An additional point highlighted was that future legislation and changes to fire safety standards, should not lead to the development of a two-tier system with higher standards for particular types of buildings such as high-rise structures. The same rules should apply to all construction types.
In summary, the webinar made clear the definitive need to improve competency across the industry, and that this should form part of any new regulatory framework for fire safety. This will allow for improved clarity to interpret legislation and clear roles and responsibilities for fire safety that should guarantee the competency of contractors.
In our experience, we frequently find that organisations are not certain of the exact responsibilities that legislation places upon them, particularly in light of the many recent legislative changes, therefore improved clarity on this will greatly benefit the sector.
The key is to make sure you are certain of your compliance responsibilities, since the consequences of not being clear can be severe.
If your organisation needs support with understanding your fire safety responsibilities in light of recent changes, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Head of Consultancy, Sarah Davies by clicking here.
To view the full fire safety webinar, click here.Back to blog