What the construction industry can learn from the Grenfell Tower fire
Now, ordinarily at Fix Radio we take a humorous approach to our content – mainly because we are not really the type to take ourselves too seriously. We leave that to men who do things like wear maroon trousers and who spit out their wine in the name of good manners. However, there are moments where even we feel compelled to take a step back and reassess, and one of those was the Grenfell Tower fire.
Killing 80 people with many still unidentified, it is a tragedy that ripped through our collective consciousness. Utterly preventable, the emergency services are still conducting their investigation into how the fire spread so quickly and why so many residents were told to stay put.
However, that being said there is no one in the construction industry who hasn’t taken note. Even as we scramble around for answers, there are already lessons to be learnt here that must be applied now for the benefit of tomorrow.
Much has already been written on the state of the cladding on the Grenfell Tower, which was simply insufficient. According to the experts, the plastic core of the cladding could have burned as quickly as petrol – it was not only unable to prevent the spread of the fire, but it also encouraged it. This tragedy has seen councils up and down the country submit cladding to the BRE for testing. And at the time of writing this article, 120 samples sent to the BRE have been found to be below the threshold. This is because in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy the BRE have stepped up their testing process, going far deeper than ever before. It would seem the lesson here is already being integrated into the national consciousness –sufficient cladding is not only a necessity but also one that could save lives.
Another issue to arise out of the Grenfell Tower fire is the public sectors approach to construction in general. Beyond the cladding, there are a number of other unexplored factors that surely contributed to the speed at which the fire spread, including window frame materials as well as the means of escape, as it should have been possible for the occupants to escape down the stairs in the time available. This brings up an important question over how the government gets advice about buildings. Sadly, there is little remaining governmental infrastructure available to offer expert and honest advice on construction – the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the Statutory Advisor on Architecture as well as the Chief Construction Advisor have all been axed in recent years, which begs the question: who on earth is advising the government on responsible and sustainable practice? A number of key figures are now pushing for the government to reestablish these bodies and reintroduce some actual expertise into the civil service.
Not only that, but a number of other bodies are calling for block management to be brought back under local government control, rather than being outsourced to external firms against whom there is already a number of cases.
Whilst it will take some more time for us to fully take in the events at Grenfell Tower, there is one clear conclusion to be drawn - that the construction industry and the government need to be working far more closely together to help protect and support UK residents.