Now that the report into the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry has been published, the Government has had time to ponder its recommendations. This will impact a raft of existing fire and building control regulations. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has already been quoted as saying that the recommendations will be implemented in full and quickly. As a fire sprinkler tank specialist committed to keeping our partners informed, we have taken a look at what those recommendations are so we can make you aware of them.
The report, compiled by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, looks at how the fire was able to spread so quickly and claim so many lives. Running to more than 860 pages, it pays particular attention to the cladding material used on the exterior of the tower block and the role it played in accelerating the blaze. It also looks at the fire safety system in place at Grenfell and draws conclusions that will lead to change. As a company dedicated to helping building owners contain fires with effective automatic systems equipped with their own water supply, we are disappointed not to have read that sprinklers should be mandatory in similar types of properties. However, this is something, Sir Martin has said he will consider in the phase two report.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Parliament that central government will take on responsibility for fire safety in the areas recommended in Sir Martin’s report. Some of the recommendations are likely to pass into law before the much-anticipated Building Safety Bill comes into being. This will involve more work for high-rise building owners and landlords.
The role of exterior cladding in the Grenfell fire
Sir Martin’s Grenfell Inquiry report concludes that changes to the walls of the tower during a refurbishment project left it in breach of Regulation B(4). This requires external walls of a building to adequately resist the spread of flame. The report further concludes that the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding panels, which included polyethylene, was the “primary cause” of the spread of the fire, allowing it to travel from floor to floor up the tower. It also points out that the plastic insulation also contributed to the spread of the blaze.
ACM also formed an architectural element at the top of Grenfell and the report states it was the cause of rapid horizontal fire spread. Flaws were found in the design of the kitchen window in Flat 16, and the report concludes this flaw allowed a run of the mill kitchen fire to escape and catch the cladding alight. Sir Martin also found that Grenfell’s fire doors had missing self closers which caused a complete failure in the compartmentation of the fire.
Sir Martin has stated: “I am satisfied that, although many different factors played a part, the principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly up the building was the presence of the ACM panels with polyethylene cores…”
Recommendations expected to be implemented
At Nationwide Water Solutions, we expect the following Grenfell Inquiry recommendations, made by Sir Martin, to be implemented in the near future:
- A requirement for high-rise building owners / landlords to have evacuation plans drawn up, including plans for vulnerable residents. These plans are to be reviewed regularly
- National guidelines will be devised to ensure tower blocks can be evacuated quickly
- Inspections to be urgently carried out on all existing fire doors in flats, which checks ongoing every three months or less
- New requirements for building management, including better interior signage, regular inspections of both fire lifts and fire doors
- Lifts must be fitted with mechanisms that will allow firefighters to take control of them during an emergency
- Fire services will be required to have evacuation policies in place for high-rise buildings and also have smoke hoods available for firefighters. The hoods will help them carry out evacuations while navigating smoke-filled areas, such as corridors.
- Building owners will be required to provide details of external walls and the materials used to the fire service, and make them aware of any changes
- To ensure that fire services personnel at all levels understand the risk of cladding fires
We urge building owners to take note of the recommendations above, because they will impact how buildings are both managed and maintained. You can download a full copy of the report here.
Fire sprinkler tank expert’s view on Grenfell Inquiry recommendations
Many of the recommendations made in Sir Martin’s report are common sense approaches. We were interested to note his comments on the issue of mandatory automatic fire sprinkler systems in tower blocks. Sir Martin stated that sprinkler systems have “a very effective part to play” in general fire safety. However, he added he had yet to hear evidence about their use. Therefore, he was not currently in a position to make a recommendation – until sprinklers are looked at in greater detail in phase two of the inquiry.
We think automatic sprinklers should be used in all high-rise and industrial buildings. Our view is based on our knowledge of how modern fire-fighting equipment works and how containing fires early on is the best way to prevent another disaster on the scale of Grenfell. The comments made by Sir Martin on materials used and failings with fire doors will be acted on and changes made. If you are a building owner, it will fall on you to carry out the recommendations to the letter.
The Grenfell Inquiry is only happening because more than 70 innocent people lost their lives as a result or an ordinary kitchen fire. In most circumstances, a fire of this nature would not have spread to the extent it did. Understanding your building, the materials used in its construction and the plans needed to ensure it is safe has never been more important.
If you want to protect your building with an automatic fire safety system, consider installing a fire sprinkler tank to ensure water is always there when you need it. For further information about what we do to protect buildings, material assets and people from fires, visit our website.