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In this, the third of our blogs in the Grenfell Tower series, we review the latest market survey from the Fire Industry Association (FIA). As a snapshot of current trends, it highlighted the impact that both the Grenfell disaster and Brexit negotiations are having on the industry.

We also bring you our latest news round-up on Grenfell Tower following the launch of the public inquiry on 14 September.

What’s hot right now in the fire safety industry?

The FIA conducts its Market Conditions Survey twice a year. Each survey presents a snapshot of current trends in the fire safety industry while also highlighting emerging issues. Clearly, the last six months has been unusual following the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June. So, it’s not surprising that the subject features heavily in the survey.

Alongside Grenfell, the other hot topic is the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Many industry sectors are on tenterhooks, waiting to learn the details of a Brexit deal (or indeed, a ‘no deal’ as so many pundits claim is the most likely outcome).  While some sectors are mostly immune, many more are hesitant to enact business change, uncertain how a Brexit deal will retrospectively affect their decisions.

What does the survey reveal about Grenfell?

It shows that post-Grenfell, many fire safety suppliers have seen a spike in the number of enquiries they’re receiving. This is not unexpected. A public disaster is an obvious catalyst for people to reconsider their own attitudes to safety.

The survey also reports that the number of Fire Risk Assessments has spiked. This is a clear sign that businesses who may not have evaluated their own fire safety before, in the appropriate manner, are now making it a priority. A Fire Risk Assessment is the first step to take in understanding how fire-safe your property is.

But, what about competency?

While an increased focus on fire safety is always a good thing, we should also be cautious about whom we entrust this focus to. A large proportion of the Grenfell debate has centred on the effectiveness of fire safety systems in the tower. And, of course, the media continues to ask, who was to blame?

If you’ve recently conducted your first Fire Risk Assessment, how did you choose a supplier? Are you confident that your supplier is trustworthy and competent?

A good rule of thumb is to only work with someone who is third-party certified. Accrediting bodies such as BAFE exist to help customers make an informed choice. They assess suppliers against demanding standards which gives you confidence when working with someone new.

What’s more, third-party certification is a requirement for any supplier applying for membership of the Fire Industry Association. Not only has this raised standards among members, it’s also a handy way for customers to quickly identify high-quality suppliers within the sector.

News round-up on Grenfell Tower

Our first two blogs in the Grenfell series review the media reports from the immediate aftermath and subsequent coverage on possible regulatory failings.

While media attention has inevitably waned, Grenfell is still in the spotlight, as our round-up below demonstrates.

Only 2% of social housing blocks fitted with sprinkler systems

The day before the public inquiry was launched, BBC Breakfast reported on a lack of sprinkler systems in social housing blocks.  In the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that this figure relates to half of all tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations in the UK.

Freedom of Information data had been released to the breakfast broadcaster. It revealed that only 1 in 50 blocks had a full sprinkler system. What’s more, only one in three had more than one staircase via which residents could evacuate. Immediately after the broadcast, senior figures publicly called for retrofitting of sprinklers.

This wasn’t the first time the subject had been raised. Shortly after the fire, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council was forced to issue a statement about the absence of a sprinkler system. At that time, he said, “I didn’t consider retrofitting sprinklers because we were told that what you try to do when you are refurbishing is to contain a fire within a particular flat so that the fire service can evacuate that flat, deal with the fire.

“There was not a collective view that all the flats should be fitted with sprinklers because that would have delayed and made the refurbishment of the block more disruptive.”

However, some might consider this view at odds with current UK legislation for new buildings. Since 2007, the law states that all buildings over 30 metres high must be fitted with sprinkler systems. In addition, the Lakanal House fire report, published in 2013, advised for retrofitting in all UK tower blocks.

 Jeremy Corbyn calls for £1bn funding for sprinklers

And it didn’t end there. A mere fortnight ahead of the autumn budget, the Labour leader launched a campaign designed to exert pressure on the chancellor.

Corbyn urged Philip Hammond to commit £1bn of public funds to retrofit sprinklers in all social high-rise accommodation. The lack of action by two Conservative governments, even in the wake of the Lakanal report, was also criticised by Mr Corbyn.

Experts warn fire safety in high-rise blocks is a long way off

Despite a flurry of tests and reports in the aftermath of the Grenfell blaze, industry insiders are now predicting that achieving real fire safety will not be a quick fix.

Experts inspected hundreds of buildings, subjecting them to intense scrutiny. The use of combustible cladding and the inadequacy of fire prevention measures were of particular interest. Most of the buildings failed fire safety tests and now it looks like completing repair work will take years. It’s believed that this is due to new skills training that will be required.

In an email shared with the Guardian, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy wared of delays. The email’s author wrote, “It is likely that undertaking a major programme of repair and replacement of cladding using existing techniques will take years to complete, which will not meet public expectations that urgent action will be taken.”

Grenfell public inquiry releases first progress report

As is the nature of any large-scale public inquiry, housekeeping matters have taken priority in the first few weeks. These including assignation of core tasks, securing expert involvement and the gathering of crucial evidence. The analysis of over 20,000 pieces of evidence has begun, with more expected to follow.

The progress reports also note the following:

  • Key to the inquiry is the understanding of the movement of fire and smoke in and around the tower
  • Eye witness reports from residents and firefighters will be essential to aid experts in reaching firm conclusions
  • Collectively, this represents around 500 witnesses, all of whom must be interviewed
  • Many of these witnesses cannot be interviewed until after they have been interviewed by the concurrent police investigation
  • Evidential hearings cannot begin until after these statements have been taken along with several other steps
  • There will be a Procedural Hearing on 11 & 12 December. As the name suggest, this hearing will deal with procedural issues. For example, the time needed to interview witnesses and for experts to review evidence. A more detailed timetable for the next phases of the inquiry will follow.

 

Final death toll confirmed by police

From the outset, the police were cautious when citing figures publicly given the difficult nature of retrieving and identifying bodies. Other factors complicated the task considerably, but on 16 November, just over five months since the fire, the police confirmed that 71 people officially died in the fire.

 

 

David Murfitt

David Murfitt

Managing Director

David has worked in the fire protection industry for over 30 years. He formed Fire Safety Services in 1999, initially working from home as a sole trader, and is proud to have grown a national company providing quality and ethical fire safety. Today, the business turns over £7 million plus and has nearly 100 employees.

Read more blogs from David.

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