FSF Grenfell Terms of Reference response. Brian Robinson CBE QFSM President of Fire Sector Federation provides the Federations response to the Grenfell Terms of Reference outlining its concerns and providing its recommendations for going forward.
FSF Grenfell Terms of Reference response
The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) brings together 64 organisations within the UK’s multi-billion pound fire industry. Its membership includes the Fire and Rescue Services, the fire industry sector (involving representative trade associations and main companies providing active and passive fire protection products), local authority building control, global insurers and the National Social Housing Fire Strategy Group.
The FSF serves to give a voice to this broad membership. FSF members have collectively campaigned for scrutiny of fire safety for a number of years and the FSF wishes to be proactive in prviding support to the official Public Inquiry.
Nick Hurd, Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, stated in his recent speech to the Local Government Association that the Inquiry’s immediate priority must be to establish the facts of what happened in the fire to take the necessary action to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. He also recognised that all the wider lessons must be identified and learnt.
As he stated, it is important that we get a better sense of what is happening in terms of compliance with building regulation, inspection and risk assessment. Mr Hurd suggested “that maybe as a system some complacency has crept in”.
The FSF agrees that the terms of the Inquiry should be wide ranging and considers that the Inquiry should investigate whether there is currently a systemic inadequacy in the fire safety control, regulation and enforcement regime across the built environment in England. As a consequence, the Federation believes this systemic failure requires a fundamental review and consideration of a national framework to protect the built environment.
What should the Inquiry cover?
1. The immediate cause of the fire and the deaths & casualties
The Grenfell Tower fire is a truly horrific catastrophe. It is shocking in the intensity and ferocity of the inferno that developed, its fast spread to kill and injure and consume the building and its interior so completely. The way the fire developed and spread had not been anticipated or predicted. The FSF agrees that it is vital that the cause of the fire and its spread, as well as the factors which led to the many deaths and injuries be thoroughly examined.
The FSF considers the Inquiry should investigate:
- The origin, causes and influencing circumstances of the extreme fire development at Grenfell Tower, in particular:
- how the fire spread to the outside of the building from the room of fire origin, and the subsequent rapid spread over the façade;
- the reasons for the extensive and fast spread of the fire within the building and the apparent breakdown of compartmentation resulting in an apparent lack of any effective restriction on fire growth.
- the relevance of the fire risk assessment in place at the time of the incident; its scope, conclusions and any outstanding recommendations for action.
- The prime reasons why so many of the occupants were killed and injured, and could not escape in time or be taken to a place of safety by the Fire and Rescue Service, in particular:
- the factors affecting early warning of the fire and appropriate means of escape and movement away from the fire and out of the building;
- the response of the fire and rescue service and any factors that created difficulties in rescue, firefighting and fire control;
- the efficacy of the ‘Stay put policy’ and the changing response of the fire service as the incident progressed.
2. Product, materials, system specification and testing
There has been a gradual progressive development in architectural requirements and the ways buildings are designed, built, serviced and occupied. This has been in response to a number of factors including cost effectiveness and greater energy efficiency.
This has led to a great variety of materials and systems being selected for all types of construction. More innovative engineering designs, different forms and structures for the same range of building functions, in more complex constructions have also led to more open and less compartmented structures and, in some cases, lower levels of inherent fire resistance compared with more traditional brick and stone based constructions. There are also changes related to levels of structural integrity, combustibility and consequent toxic emissions.
Under these circumstances, the FSF is concerned that testing processes have not kept pace with modern building practices and materials. It is also concerned that there appears to be a lack of understanding of what the tests demonstrate.
For example, there is an apparent disconnect between what is being designed, supplied and approved for use and the Government’s expectations of fire performance; as evidenced by the Government’s statement that there had been a 100% failure rate in materials taken from similar buildings and tested so far in the Government’s screening regime. Testing is a process that seeks to classify product performance against specific criteria and does not necessarily consider those products when in use in an actual situation, unless they have been tested as a complete assembly for that situation.
One of the key questions therefore has to be the fitness-for-purpose of laboratory-based testing and evaluation methods using small scale tests for combustibility to evaluate likely large scale performance in buildings. The Grenfell fire makes this particularly important regarding the approval of cladding and insulation systems rather than the individual components and elements of those systems and because data from such tests may be used in computer based design systems.
The FSF is also concerned that there is fragmentation with regards to fundamental fire research within the UK, with a lack of public funding for both fire research and the collation and sharing of fire statistics and data. Today in the UK there is a sparsity of ‘public’ and ‘open’ research. In many cases the outcomes of product testing building materials is commercially sensitive, often related to seeking product compliance to meet international standards, and as a consequence is never available in a raw state publicly. Effectively research has therefore transferred to local or individual organisations subsequently weakening the UK’s ability to identify serious concerns and undermining national protection.
The FSF recommends that the Inquiry investigate:
- The processes used to justify any system and investigate why products supplied do not meet the expected fire performance. Furthermore, if third party documents were used to allow a lower performance; the Inquiry must examine how this was justified
- The current testing process. Is it fit for purpose given the differing ways in which materials are used in current construction and refurbishment. Further are the different routes which can currently be taken to demonstrate regulatory compliance consistent with those testing regimes and the realised performance
- Should there be a greater focus in the testing regime on structural integrity, combustibility and issues of toxicity
- How are fire engineered solutions to be maintained fit for purpose for the full life of a building
- Should there be improvements in funding for national research, dissemination of good practice and public reporting into the fire implications of non-traditional construction materials, techniques and methods
3. Building Regulations and guidance
The Federation has long been campaigning for a revision and update of Approved Document B, primarily to remove ambiguity and provide better clarity where needed and also to suggest areas where additions are advisable to better reflect the current risks in the built environment.
The FSF recommends the Inquiry investigate:
- The clarity and appropriateness of the practical guidance within Approved Document B, and referenced standards, particularly regarding the design and construction of the external envelopes of buildings
- Whether the guidance given in Approved Document B and related documents has clarity and is fit for the purpose of ensuring safety from fire in residential tower blocks
- The role of other forms of guidance (“routes to compliance”); their validity and appropriateness in meeting the Regulations
- Whether the current guidance was correctly followed at Grenfell by the designer, contractors and others involved in assuring compliance, including building control
- The applicability of the Building Regulations as they pertain to the refurbishment, alteration and upgrading of elements of a building and to seek clarity as to what aspects of the Regulation should be retrospective. In particular whether there should be any changes to the fire strategy for the building arising from the alterations and the determination made in regards to the retrofitting of automatic sprinkler protection within the building during the refurbishment
- The interaction between the Building Regulations and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and the quality of the information, in regard to fire safety, passed from those responsible for the work on the building and the Responsible Person, in line with Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations
- Whether deregulation and the repeal of Local Acts, such as the London Building Act, resulted in a less fire safe building
- Whether there is a need for a fixed period of regular review of ADB in future to keep pace with changes
- The need or otherwise for the introduction of separate individual supplementary documents for buildings with particular risk profiles (such as, residential towers)
4. The construction and enforcement process
The development of a building project is a complex one with many elements. To achieve a successful outcome it relies on several people with differing disciplines coming together with strong processes, adequate training, working competently to execute their roles with due regard to compliance with guidance, standards and regulations.
The process can be fragmented, frequently along a drawn-out supply chain, with no individual taking overall responsibility. The FSF believes it is important that there is an overarching construction strategy to encourage collaborative working across the whole design and build process to improve the quality of installed fire protection within the built environment.
The Federation is also concerned that this fragmentation is also reflected in Government. Fire safety in buildings is an important issue which is relevant to many Government Departments, including protecting schools, hospitals, defence installations and many others. With the responsibility for the fire and rescue services and for building control now in separate Departments, it is striking that there is no cross-departmental committee for fire as there is for other disciplines. The Federation believes that such a move would assist in developing the holistic view of fire safety that is necessary nationwide.
FSF recommends the Inquiry should investigate:
- The current processes for overview of the design and the specification of materials and products from concept through to project completion within the building process with a keen attention on their impact on fire safety
- The current processes for approval of the installed materials to ensure that they conform to the design specification and that any changes are managed to ensure compliance with the relevant guidance, standards and regulations
- The adequacy of the oversight arrangements for buildings during their construction, including refurbishment, to ensure fire safety protection is properly executed
- Whether the resources available to local authorities including their building control teams, combined with commercial competition from private sector approved inspectors affected the decisions taken on the refurbishment work at Grenfell and other similar buildings
- Whether appropriate processes are in place to ensure the requirements to pass information over at building handover are adequately enforced through Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations 2010 and via the CDM Regulations
- Whether the current national arrangements across Government and local Government are consistent and sufficient to ensure fire safety in the built environment is effectively administered and enforced
5. Competency and the impact of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 introduced a deregulated and non-prescriptive approach to fire safety in the UK where the legal duty for assessment and management of fire risk resides with the person responsible for the building. This responsibility may be singularly undertaken or contracted to another competent person.
Likewise during construction or material alteration, assessment and approval of compliance to building control requirements, including acceptance of materials, construction techniques and ultimate performance, can be authorised by a public building control officer or an external approved inspector. One of the major complaints from wider industry concerning fire risk assessment is the lack of a uniform approach with different authorities offering conflicting and inconsistent advice on fire safety issues.
While the fire service has a statutory duty under the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order to enforce fire safety and also a statutory consultation role in the building control process for certain types of buildings, the National Audit Office in 2015 reported a 30% reduction in audits and inspections carried out by fire and rescue authorities 2010-11 to 2014-15.
Overall, the FSF considers that competency is a key line of inquiry. From inception into continued use, through control and inspection of building construction, installation of fire safety features, on into risk assessments under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, and continuous maintenance of those installations and operating circumstances helping to ensure the building remains fit-forpurpose and functional in practice.
The HM Coroner at the Lakanal House inquest also expressed concern about the regulatory regime and the uncertainties relating to risk assessment that resulted in issue of a Rule 43 letter.
A key focus for the inquiry should be on the fire risk assessment carried out for the Grenfell Tower – in particular, if that assessment was suitable and sufficient for the risks that applied in the building given its design, occupancy and the measures provided for escape. That will also need to consider actions taken or not taken by the responsible and competent persons involved.
The FSF recommends that the Inquiry should investigate:
- Whether the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the consequent changes in responsibility for fire authorities contributed to the way the refurbishment was approved
- The impact of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 on UK fire safety and the suitability of the fire risk self-assessment regime
- The competence of enforcement agencies such as fire and rescue service, building control and approved inspectors as well as competency of fire engineers, product installers and all involved in the construction. The ongoing use and maintenance process must also be examined. This requires considerations of both individual and organisational competencies for all practitioners and responsible persons with active support by learned bodies and public agencies
- The general consistency in delivery in building control and fire safety enforcement and advice across the UK as implied by national Regulations and fire control arrangements. The efficacy of the overall scrutiny and control processes in place within this process to ensure competency for the assessed risk, the use of an appropriate scope to any fire risk assessment and actions to comply with recommendations
Is there any type of evidence that you think is essential for the Inquiry to obtain?
The FSF believes it is essential that a wide range of documentation must be made available to the Inquiry, including:
- Documents relating to the refurbishment and approval process at Grenfell, and similar buildings
- Evidence of tests carried out and processes used to justify any system; including any third party documents that were used to justify a lower performance
- Risk assessments from Grenfell and other similar premises and evidence of risk assessor competency
- Details of fire related inspections or audits carried out before during and after the refurbishment
- Test reports, assessment documents and test data from other sources and product certification documents that apply for the main materials identified as involved in the fire
- Wider evidence may also include:
- Evidence and recommendations from previous Inquests that may be pertinent to the Inquiry (including Lakanal, Shirley Towers and Atherstone)
- Past major fire incidents that may be pertinent to the Inquiry
- Fire risk assessment prosecutions
- National UK statistical data on fires
- London Fire Brigade fire data collections
- London Fire Brigade pre-determined attendance and operational pre-planning in the event of a fire in a tower block
- DCLG and FSF surveys on the ADB review
- A summary of global tall building cladding fires and the conclusions from any investigations
- Relevant reports from CROSS (Confidential Reporting of Structural Safety)
What should the Inquiry deal with in its interim report?
It is particularly important for the Inquiry to review and publish its findings as soon as possible on the specific sequence of events on the night of the fire which had an influence on the tragic consequences and outcomes.
The Interim report must consider:
- All contributing factors in the specific case of the Grenfell Tower fire that led to the fire spread to and over the façade, the extreme fire development and spread within the building, and the conditions within the building that affected the ability of the occupants to move or be rescued to a place of safety outside the building.
- The origin of the fire and any ramifications for domestic fire safety
- The results of the cladding tests that have been carried out and completed to date and the results of all subsequent tests on complete systems. This is a matter of urgency since there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding what measures should be taken for existing buildings, buildings currently under construction and nearing completion, and buildings being planned and specified
- Guidance on steps building owners and managers should take immediately to reduce the risks of similar disasters occurring
- Details of any changes to legislation or official guidance needed urgently
- Guidance on any products or systems which should not be used in refurbishment works with immediate effect
What should be left for the main report, so the interim report can be published quickly?
Longer term investigations that could be left for the main report should include:
- The impact of a change from prescriptive to non-prescriptive building standards
- The impact of the deregulation agenda of successive Governments on fire safety legislation
- The necessary review and amendment of Approved Document B
- Any necessary changes to the Building Regulations or necessary Local Acts
- Changes to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order to define competency and ensure adequate involvement of the fire and rescue service
- The need for a framework to identify, support and record competency for all those involved in building fire safety
- The governance and discharge of responsibilities for control of fire safety in the built environment, such as the development of a national framework for the fire and rescue service and wider improvements in policy and delivery systems
- Investigations of whether the current resources available to local authorities and competition in building control have had an impact on fire safety
Would you like to be kept informed of the Inquiry’s work? How would you like to be contacted?
The Fire Sector Federation would like to be kept informed of the Inquiry’s work and would welcome any opportunity to provide further support, guidance and evidence to the Inquiry team.
For more information visit firesectorfederation.co.uk/