Post-Grenfell inquiries wrapped up in July 2022, with the final reports being expected in 2023. The results are already impacting fire safety in high-rise buildings, but solid regulatory changes are expected in the future to more effectively prevent fire risks. In this article, we’re covering what has come out of the inquiry in recent months, alongside a summary of essential fire safety regulations for social housing.
Post-Grenfell inquiries into requirements and responsibilities
Last year, the inquiry looked at several key aspects of the requirements for the testing, certification, and classification of materials for use in external cladding systems.
When the building was refurbished, Arconic’s polyethene panels were used to clad the exterior of the building to make it warmer and drier. However, these cassette-type folded panels performed poorly in the manufacturer’s fire safety tests. Despite this, the British Board of Agrément (BBA) granted the panels Class 0 ratings based on the more fire-retardant version that was sold in the USA and not the panels offered on the UK market. This allowed the company to sell the high-risk panels under the Class 0 rating, which was a requirement for residential developments. Later, after several fires, the panels were reclassified as Class B, and then Class E, but sales teams were instructed not to tell Grenfell refurbishers of the last change, which labeled the panels as easily flammable. It was found that this cladding played a primary role in the fire’s spread.
Arconic has responded, stressing that its panels had been “misused” in a way that was “entirely peculiar to Grenfell” and stands by their version that the panels are “capable of being used safely if adequate safety measures are designed”.
Compounding this, the Celotex RS5000 insulation in the Grenfell refurbishment utilised a large-scale testing loophole to become recommended for use on high-rise buildings. This was despite internal concerns about combustibility, which included a presentation that claimed 5,000 square metres of the product (the amount that would be typically used in a high-rise building) was comparable to adding the fuel power of a 19,000-litre oil tanker to the walls of the building.
Incorporating fire safety into building design and management
Inquiries also identified industry-wide gaps in knowledge surrounding fire protection, particularly amongst architects, contractors and builders. More specifically, there was a notable lack of awareness of fire safety in the design and construction process. This was evident, for example, in the switch from fire-safe zinc cladding to plastic-filled aluminium cladding to save building costs.
During the inquiry, Andy Roe, the London Fire Brigade Commissioner, claimed that ministers were aware of fire risks in high-rise buildings before the fire. In fact, insurers warned about fire risks in high-rise buildings months before the fire. It’s also been claimed that Grenfell’s tenant management organisation did nothing to evaluate if the building was suitable for the “stay put” strategy, an issue that will likely put them in violation of the Fire Safety Act responsibilities.
In May this year, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s new Fire Reform White Paper was announced to include recommendations from Phase 1 of the inquiry. However, this didn’t include placing a legal obligation on landlords to provide Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for each of their disabled tenants.
Looking toward the final report and recommendations
The Grenfell inquiry draws to a close and we await the full findings of the report set for 2023. Throughout the inquiry, it has disclosed over 300,000 documents, received 1,500 witness statements, and held more than 300 public meetings. The final report will determine if criminal charges should be brought and against whom. It will also assess the cause of the fire and the extent of responsibility for all parties involved. Finally, it should include recommendations for new and improved regulations for fire safety in social housing and high-rise buildings.
Saving lives, protecting property, and using the right materials
We can expect the reports to recommend regulatory changes regarding social housing fire safety. It is anticipated that these recommendations will focus on the compliant use and installation of fire protection materials in renovations. That said, it is just as important that there are clear and specific guidelines for those responsible for fire safety, and that these guidelines are legally enforceable. They should also apply directly to those involved in the design and construction of social housing to fire safety officers and building managers.
One of these key documents is Approved Document B. While the regulations outlined in this document relate to multiple types of commercial and residential buildings, in the context of this guide it can also be applied to social housing and particularly high-rise buildings.
Essentially, Approved Document B provides guidelines for buildings to be designed and constructed in accordance with fire safety requirements. It implies that all parties must work with contractors to enforce these requirements during the construction phase. It also explains responsibilities that are specific to building management staff, showing them what needs to be done to keep compliant with fire safety.
Recent key changes to take note of include extending requirements for sprinkler installation and consistent wayfinding signage to incorporate buildings over 11m in height. This applies to new residential buildings that are over 11m in height, as well as buildings that reach this limit due to refurbishment or extension work. Lack of compliance with these amendments will cause conflict with fire services, failure to meet post-completion surveys such as the EWS1 forms, legal issues, and severe penalties.
Landlord and building manager responsibilities
The current regulations specify the need for a person (or group of people) to be directly responsible for fire safety compliance, who may enlist professionals to help with this aspect of building management. The responsible person’s duties include identifying fire safety risks such as:
- Flammable materials around doors into flats, windows, and external cladding
- Possible fuel sources such as gas lines, electrical appliances, and stored goods
- Possible sources of ignition, like kitchen appliances, heating, and smoking in common areas
In your fire risk assessment, special attention must also now be given to:
- DIY work within apartments and dwellings
- Dilapidation and repair needs
- Refurbishments and property improvements
You will also need to determine which occupants are particularly at risk, be they older residents, children, or tenants with disabilities or mobility needs.
Fire risk assessment and fire safety specialists for social housing
With amendments to Approved Document B and more regulations on the horizon, it is more important than ever that parties involved with designing, constructing, and managing social housing have access to specialist guidance and solutions.
At CLM Fireproofing, we have worked extensively in the social housing sector alongside local authority surveyors and building owners to ensure compliance with fire safety regulations. With 34 years of experience and a large team of specialist installers, we support our clients to make sure all work is completed to robust, auditable and fully-compliant standards.
We also work with building management and responsible persons to perform fire safety assessments and provide solutions to identified fire safety risks. In addition, we install remedial solutions to bring buildings up to code, balancing highly technical work with a compassionate approach to resident safety.