The risk of further fire tragedies following the fatal Grenfell Tower blaze has been raised by leading engineering services Trade Association the ECA in its response to the ‘Raising The Bar’ consultation. In the aftermath of the tragic blaze at the Grenfell Tower high-rise block in West London, several public inquiries have concluded that installer competency is fundamental when it comes to public safety. This is particularly the case in buildings such as residential tower blocks, care homes and hospitals.
However, within the electrotechnical industry, many individuals are claiming to be competent electricians despite having trained, in some cases, for only a matter of weeks.
Commenting on the ECA’s response, Paul Reeve (director of Corporate Social Responsibility) said: “This week’s publication of the Phase 1 inquiry findings into the Grenfell Tower tragedy underline the urgency and vital importance of ensuring that everyone who works in and on buildings where there are vulnerable residents must be sufficiently competent. We should all remember that we’re talking about ensuring residential fire safety. It’s time to stop messing around with low levels of electrical and fire safety competency and, in particular, it’s high time to say a final goodbye to so-called ‘five-week wonders’. Those who are wrongly regarded by some as being competent to design and install electrical work in residential and similar premises.”
Reeve added: “The ECA has mapped the way forward for the sector in our response to ‘Raising The Bar’. We need to avoid settling for lower competencies, which risks another major fire tragedy in the UK.”
Supporting five key recommendations
‘Raising The Bar’ was prepared by the Competence Steering Group for ‘Building a Safety Future’. Within its response, the ECA supports five recommendations regarding the competence of installers:
*there should be accredited third party certification of all enterprises
*all individuals must have Level 2 or 3 Ofqual-regulated and competence-based qualifications. The ECA strongly advocates technical apprenticeships for new entrants
*the electrotechnical sector should use the Electrotechnical Certification Card Scheme
*Continuing Professional Development should ensure workers are up-to-date with the latest regulations and other developments
*all installers should have core, relevant knowledge of fire safety in buildings, with standardised and mandatory training in tandem
The ‘Raising The Bar’ consultation follows Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Too much focus on firefighters
The Grenfell Tower public inquiry has faced a backlash after publication earlier this week of the Phase 1 report, with firefighters claiming there has been too much focus on them and not enough scrutiny on those in power.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said it was “unfair and unjust” that firefighters were being publicly scrutinised while others were not. “Why is nobody holding to account the fire minister or the Prime Minister, who was previously in charge of the London Fire Brigade himself?”
In a full statement response to the inquiry’s Phase 1 report, published on Wednesday 30 October, Wrack stated: “The inquiry’s interim report must finally be a turning point for fire safety in the UK. Government must now take responsibility for ensuring that recommendations are applied nationwide.”
The FBU has noted the report’s claims that lives could have been saved if firefighters had acted differently. In response, Wrack commented: “We strongly refute the report’s assertion that it would have been possible or safe to evacuate. There is currently no way of knowing if evacuation could have saved more lives. Firefighters stand in solidarity with the bereaved, survivors and residents and share their grief for the lives lost that night. However, we have said from the start that the order of issues to be investigated has been entirely wrong.”
Pleas from the community
Wrack urged that the inquiry’s structure “prioritises the scrutiny of firefighters” (who did everything that they could to save lives) over and above investigating the critical issues of public safety that led to the fire and caused it to spread.
“Before any firefighter arrived that night, Grenfell Tower was a death trap,” asserted Wrack. “The true culprits of the fire are those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding, those who gutted the UK’s fire safety regime, those who ignored the warnings from previous fires and those who didn’t hear the prior pleas of a community worried for its own safety.”
Wrack argues it’s “disgraceful” that, two years on from Grenfell Tower, there has been no major assessment of the ‘Stay Put’ policy, despite firefighters across the country putting pressure on the Government to do so. He concluded: “We cannot wait for years for the inquiry to conclude. Change is needed now.”
Decade of change
In the wake of the report into the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, the Fire Sector Federation is calling for a decade of change after a decade of neglect.
The threat of fire has always demanded serious attention. The comprehensive document that has just been issued explains why and rightly draws attention to poor performance and failures. It also suggests where responsibilities lie for the loss of life and injury that happened on 14 June 2017.
When considering the detail, the Federation will continue to reflect that, without an appropriate fire strategy and a clear and strong regulatory framework, the danger of terrible events like Grenfell Tower will continue to exist.
Firefighting and rescue are the last, not the first line of defence. The Federation had been shouting in the dark to improve fire safety through better building control before the deaths in the fire at Lakanal House and will continue to do so until it sees the changes proposed by Government to implement the Hackitt Review on building fire safety come fully into practice.
Chairman Michael Harper said: “The release of the Phase 1 report with its extensive criticism and recommendations for action reminds everyone of how far the country had fallen in fire safety. It’s a sad and crucial milestone. One that demands we all energetically continue the work we’ve started to rebuild public confidence in buildings being safe. The greatest memorial to those whom we have lost and hurt is to not just say ‘never again’, but also put in place the means that make that happen.”
Response from the London Fire Brigade
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said: “On behalf of the London Fire Brigade, I want to express our deepest sorrow at not being able to save all those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. The suffering of the bereaved, survivors and community will never be forgotten by any of us in the Brigade.”
Cotton continued: “The report details from the start that fire spread to the top of the building within 20 minutes. It was an unprecedented residential building fire, precipitated by significant failings of the building’s fire safety measures which created impossible conditions that residents and the Emergency Services must never be placed in again. We will now carefully and fully consider all of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 report and take every action we can to improve public safety. Many of the recommendations are welcome and will need to be fully understood, not only by the London Fire Brigade, but also by Government, every Fire and Rescue Service and every residential building owner and manager across the country.”
Importantly, Cotton added: “The report is focused on our response and it’s right for our actions to be fully examined. We welcome the chairman’s recognition of the courage, commitment and bravery of firefighters on the night, but we’re disappointed at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in completely unprecedented circumstances and faced the most unimaginable conditions while trying to save the lives of others. On the evacuation of Grenfell Tower, we note the chairman states he has received no expert evidence to guide him on reaching his conclusion and that a qualitative judgement on the Brigade’s approach might be better reserved for Phase 2 of the process. We’re also disappointed that measures we’ve been calling for are not in the recommendations, including the wider use of sprinklers in both new and existing buildings.”
In conclusion, Cotton observed: “We will continue to review and make changes to our policies, our training and our equipment. We’re lobbying for major Building Regulations changes and urgent research into ‘buildings that fail’ on fire safety, which leaves the national ‘Stay Put’ strategy no longer viable. We will never give up until all of the changes we’re calling for to protect residents have been made. We will continue to fully assist the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to understand what happened such that we call all help to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.”