Building regulations must be reassessed as part of the inquiry into the Grenfell tower fire, according to a panel of experts at FIREX International.
In an emotional debate, which begun with a one-minute silence to commemorate the victims, Dennis Davis of the Fire Sector Federation (FSF) said the industry was ‘creating the legacy for the next 50 years’ following the Grenfell tower fire.
To a crowd of journalists and TV cameras he said: ‘Time and time and time again, we are desperately worried about our building regulations, in particularly the approved documents falling behind what is going on within the built environment.
‘We must get over this. 2006 is the last review. Ten years is too long a gap, far too long a gap if you consider how much constriction and building has changed.’
‘The determination has to be as a sector that we ask very, very deep, searching questions – how could this happen in our country, at this time?’
Jim Glocking, Fire Protection Association, said the industry was seeing ‘worrying trends associated with fires’ but was ‘struggling enormously’ to get its voice heard.
He said that the situation with central government was ‘very difficult’ as there was no timeframe and ‘you couldn’t imagine holding the Olympics and not telling athletes when to be ready – yet that is the situation we find ourselves in.’
Steve Seaber of the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, said that there needed to be more regular reviews of legislation – like in Australia, where it happened once a year.
He said: ‘We also need to make sure that regulatory changes are reflected in other parts of regulations.’
Stephen MacKenzie, international fire risk and emergency planning expert, said there was ‘an awful lot of misinformation’ and we needed to learn from the lessons of the past, as well as political responses.
He said: ‘We need to look not just at regulations but at emergency and disaster responses from local and central government.
‘We are see an erosion of fire research capacities in the UK – need to look at longer-term secure funding streams.’
Niall Rowan of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection was one of the only panellists to make an outright comment about the cladding, often cited as a claimed cause of the extensive fire, saying ‘it seems to have failed spectacularly’.
He said: ‘I witnessed a number of videos from passers-by – but I don’t put a scapegoat on the cladding panels, there was also the foam – we need to look at the whole system.’
He claimed though the panels weren’t permitted under Approval Document B – but that one of the ‘desktop studies’ where they could be used, through a Building Control alliance of the local authority, inspectors and other bodies, could allow for them to be used.
‘Although the panels aren’t permitted, there is a very sophisticated test – the ‘desktop study’ – that can be used, and that some of these haven’t been as rigorous as they should have been.’
Rowan agreed though there was a ‘lot of supposition’ about the fire, but that it was ‘tombstone legislation’ that caused it – ‘unfortunately it takes somethings like this to make a difference.’
Martin Harvey, Fire Industry Association, said there was also a real issue about competency skills and knowledge of the people installing fire protection systems.
He said:‘You just need a man and a white van and he’s suddenly an expert in installing fire systems.’
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