It is widely acknowledged that the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, where 71 people lost their lives, is one of the greatest tragedies of recent times. This emphasised the need to re-evaluate how building regulations and fire safety in housing are applied and enforced by councils and housing associations.
In light of this we sat down with Jamie Davies, the trainer on our Fire Safety in Housing training course to get his feedback on a few major points before the event.
Jamie joined BB7 as a senior fire engineer, providing support, primarily to the fire risk management team. He had previously been employed as a fire safety consultant with CS Todd and Associates, delivering fire risk management and fire engineering services to a wide array of industry sectors. Jamie now heads up the fire risk management discipline for BB7.
Before moving into the private sector, Jamie spent 12 years with Kent Fire and Rescue service in an operational and fire safety capacity. Jamie has also provided technical support and project management to major fire safety projects, such as the premises risk management project, automatic fire alarm response project and fire safety co-ordination at major events.
The 2017 Grenfell disaster showed an overwhelming need for councils and housing associations to re-evaluate current building regulations. In your opinion how well do you think this has been carried out so far?
I think we need to evaluate whether the incident occurred due to the deficiency or omission within technical guidance and/ or the construction standards or establish whether the guidance produced under building regulations was a date in the first place. I’m not so sure that there are technical matters that are incorrect within the approved documents, but more the question being raised as to whether the guidance was applied appropriately in the case of the incident. Consequently, I would suggest that the focus should be surrounding the process and the superintendence of the technical standards being applied.
Not wishing to prejudice the outcome of the Hackett review, although I suspect that we will see changes and/or improvements to the design and approvals process rather than any significant changes to technical requirements from the building regulations.
It’s worth noting that the government and enforcing bodies continue to reference the guidance given in the ‘Fire Safety in Purpose Built Flats’ guide to provide fire safety advice, and are using the standards from Approved Document B in their recommendations for the remedial action relating to ACM cladding.
What are the main issues that Councils and Housing Associations face when it comes to fire safety?
In my experience, fire risk management within the social housing sector is particularly difficult for a number of reasons. Primarily, housing associations have a difficult task of managing quite often a very large building portfolio. Often, the full extent of this portfolio is unknown (considering the conditions and type of construction), which presents difficulties in itself. The range of buildings are frequently very diverse both in age and construction, meaning that it is difficult to apply common standards throughout the portfolio. I believe that councils and housing associations have an unenviable task of trying to balance safety with the needs of residents, which often leads to difficulties with the residents themselves, not understanding the arrangements of the buildings and as such, leads to contraventions within the premises which are often unknowingly caused by the residents.
Quite often, the advice which has been provided to these organisations, both from consultants and enforcing authorities over the years has not been consistent, which has been confusing for the councils and housing associations which have been trying to improve standards over a number of years. I believe that with a limited budget available these organisations should be prioritising the high-risk concerns, that I believe has not always happened as efficiently as it could have done.
What are your top three most crucial points to enforce when it comes to fire safety?
Engage with your residents – similar incidents in residential premises suggest to us that residents have not always been fully engaged within the process of fire safety improvement. Even from the most simple matters of knowing building emergency procedures to understanding dos and don’ts are not always fully understood.
Challenge everything – although possibly controversial, I would always advise responsible persons and duty holders of residential buildings to ask questions and challenge processes. Whether this be advice from a risk assessor, a design from an architect or feedback from residents, it is important that person to manage these buildings fully understand what they are being asked to do in order to make effective decisions with budgets and ensuring they are doing the best thing for the building end-users.
Be thorough – I would strongly advocate the approach to fire safety, which has been documented in many government guidance documents. If the methodologies are applied in the correct way, in the building duty holders can have a degree of comfort in knowing that they have done everything reasonably possible in order to reduce the risk within the premises. The key point here is to ensure that the risk assessments are thorough, relevant and fit for purpose. It is also worth considering that the wider fire safety arrangements of the organization support the ethos of senior management, ensuring that fire risk assessments are only one aspect of the process. It is often forgotten that the organisational fire risk management is as crucial as individual fire risk assessments, which is as equally required under UK fire safety legislation.
What can delegates expect from the Fire Safety in Housing training that you are giving?
The training is being delivered an interesting time, because we would have sight of the published Hackett review. Although I am extremely experienced with the application of fire safety within residential buildings, I believe this session will be very important in understanding the likely future direction of fire safety regulation in these types of buildings.
I hope to be able to provide a strong information point for delegates for both technical and management matters, which should hopefully affirm their current position with the management of their portfolio.
Get involved in the conversation!
Are you responsible for building regulations and fire safety? Have you been affected by the Grenfell tower fire?
We’d love to hear from you. You can tweet us using #UMGTraining @UModernGov.
If you would like to discuss any of the details you have read in this blog; including our ‘Ensuring Effective Fire Safety in Housing’ course on Tuesday 26th June, please contact us on 0800 542 9440 or email [email protected].
Can’t make the date?
We can also run this course for you In-house, at your organisation or a venue of your choice, on a date to suit you.
Contact our In-house training team on [email protected] or call 0800 542 9414 to find out more.