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The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster that killed 72 people has published its final report and among its recommendations are stipulations that owners and managers of high-rise buildings must carry out regular checks on fire doors.
© Getty
© Getty

02 December 2019 |  Herpreet Kaur Grewal

The report states: “Fire doors play an essential role in preventing or inhibiting the spread of smoke and toxic gases and in preserving effective compartmentation of buildings.”

It therefore recommends that “the owner and manager of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not they are high-rise buildings) [should] carry out an urgent inspection of all fire doors to ensure that they comply with applicable legislative standards” and “that the owner and manager of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not they are high-rise buildings) be required by law to carry out checks at not less than three-monthly intervals to ensure that all fire doors are fitted with effective self-closing devices in working order”.

The retired High Court judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who led the inquiry, also advised building owners and managers to “carry out an urgent inspection of all fire doors to ensure that they comply with applicable legislative standards”.

The report also records that it was “clear that the use of combustible materials in the external wall of Grenfell Tower, principally in the form of the ACM rainscreen cladding, but also in the form of combustible insulation, was the reason why the fire spread so quickly to the whole of the building”. 

It adds that surveys undertaken since the fire “have established that external wall materials similar to those used on Grenfell Tower have been used on over 400 other high-rise residential buildings around the country”.

It points out that the landings in the staircase at Grenfell Tower were not clearly marked with the relevant floor numbers to reflect the additional floors created during the refurbishment and, as a result, firefighters were unable to identify floors clearly when carrying out firefighting or search-and-rescue operations within the building.

Evidence also indicates that many occupants of Grenfell Tower were unable to read or understand the fire safety instructions placed in the lobbies throughout the building. Another recommendation is that owners and managers of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not it is a high-rise building) should “be required by law to provide fire safety instructions (including instructions for evacuation) in a form that the occupants of the building can reasonably be expected to understand, taking into account the nature of the building and their knowledge of the occupants”.

Government response
The government has said that it will enact all recommendations in the Grenfell Inquiry report.

In a statement to Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I can confirm that, where Sir Martin recommends responsibility for fire safety be taken on by central government, we will legislate accordingly.

“And, more widely, we plan to accept, in principle, all of the recommendations that Sir Martin makes of central government. We will set out how we plan to do so as quickly as possible. But I can assure the House – and all those affected by the Grenfell tragedy – that where action is called for, action will follow.”

Johnson added: “We will continue to implement the findings of the Hackitt review of building regulations.”

A spokeswoman from the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, said: “We welcome publication of the report and will study the recommendations and content in detail. As the leading professional body for workplace and facilities management, we remain committed to establishing and maintaining stronger competencies within the industry and making buildings safer. 

“Through our work with the Competence Steering Group – established in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s report in 2018 – we are helping to shape the new statutory role of building safety manager, which will make a significant contribution to avoiding similar disasters in future. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the Grenfell tragedy at this time.”

Additionally, Lord Porter, building safety spokesman at the Local Government Association, said: “It is clear that the fire was caused by a catastrophic failure of the building safety system in England. This has been proven by the number of public and private buildings with flammable material and the number of modern buildings which are behaving in unexpectedly dangerous ways when they catch fire. Reform of this broken system cannot come soon enough.

“Government has to ensure any new regulatory system not only covers high-rise residential buildings, but extends to any building where vulnerable people sleep, like hospitals, care homes and residential schools. 

“Those who live in, work and visit high-rise and high-risk buildings must be safe. We look forward to continuing to work with the government at pace to deliver the much-needed reform to ensure residents are safe and feel safe.”

A statement from the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) says it believes “the failings of the building (and others like it) are the result of decades of a prevalent culture in which fire safety has not been considered as seriously as is required”.

It adds: “The race to the bottom culture in the construction industry, which extends from design through to final construction, was clearly identified in the Hackitt report on building regulations. 

“The ASFP has long campaigned for passive fire protection products to be third-party certificated and for installers also to be members of third-party certified installation schemes.” 

New building safety body

Dame Judith Hackitt was named as government adviser on the new building safety regulator in October. She will provide independent advice to the government on how best to establish the new body.

The appointment follows Dame Judith’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, in which the government pledged to take forward all of her recommendations and form a new national building safety regulator.

The regulator will oversee the design and management of buildings, with a strong focus on ensuring the new regime for higher-risk buildings is enforced effectively. It will also have the power to apply criminal sanctions to building owners who do not obey the new regime. 

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: “[Dame Judith’s] expertise will be essential to forming a strong regulator with teeth to ensure all residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes both now and in the future.”

Hackitt led the government’s review into building safety following the Grenfell fire that claimed 72 lives. The inquiry into the fire published its long-awaited report on 30 October.

Emma Potter