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Written by
on 20 November 2017

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London Fire Brigade chiefs are calling for more to be done to prevent fires on construction sites.

Ever since the Grenfell Tower tragedy claimed the lives of 71 people, fire safety has never been far from the headlines. Worryingly, the construction sector has failed to raise standards – according to London’s Fire Brigade (LFB) chiefs.

The Fire Brigade has made a number of suggestions to an independent inquiry being led by former HSE head Judith Hackitt looking into fire safety. Top of their list of concerns is what they see as an insufficient level of skills when it comes to building and maintaining buildings to prevent fire-related tragedies.

Problems at every stage of a building’s lifespan

Fire chiefs are concerned that opportunities to reduce the risk of fire are being missed at every stage of the building lifecycle. Their report warns that a “general lack of competence” means that dangerous decisions are being taken, including:

  • Design and construction defects, like flawed compartmentation between flats, that allow fire and smoke to spread through buildings.
  • Fire safety systems, like mechanical smoke ventilation, are not being installed or maintained correctly, reducing their effectiveness during a fire.
  • A general lack of understanding of the fire safety measures already installed on site – and how they are used or maintained.

According to their submission, architects and builders are creating future problems for their tenants from the outset of a construction project. The fact that the Fire Brigade has no involvement at the design stage of a project means that problems are not identified until construction has been completed. Worse still, some may never be exposed until there is a serious fire.

Fire chiefs call for improvements

To help tackle these issues and improve site safety, the LFB’s report makes a series of recommendations, including:

  • Introducing new mandatory accreditations for any operative installing smoke ventilation systems, fire detection units, and alarms.
  • Tightening of fire safety legislation to better define roles and responsibilities.
  • A new independent site inspection program to ensure that the safety systems are correctly installed according to the original design specification.
  • A separation of building control and fire engineering design advice responsibilities to increase accountability between firms.

Again, the Fire Brigade believe that by raising overall skill levels, fire safety will improve exponentially.

Wait and see

The LFB submission is just one part of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review and will be considered alongside expert advice from many other sources. It will take some time for the results of the consultation to be collated and analysed, and longer still until we see any of these suggestions being incorporated into industry standards or the law.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy has brought a long-running problem to light – at the cost of 71 lives. Hopefully, Hackitt’s inquiry will identify improvements that can be implemented quickly – and industry comes together to prevent a similar event happening again in the UK.

For more help and advice on raising fire safety standards on your construction sites, please get in touch.

Chartered health and safety consultant. 20+ years helping busy people in construction and the built environment. David provides how-to articles, advice and guidance to help explain and make compliance easier for clients. A solutionist with a brain you can pick. And you can easily get in touch with David on social media Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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