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Fire chiefs lambast construction industry's incompetence

14 Nov 17 There will be an increase in serious building fires unless the construction industry starts to take fire safety more seriously, the London Fire Brigade has warned.

The construction industry is failing on fire safety
The construction industry is failing on fire safety

Fire chiefs say that “a general lack of competence” means that dangerous decisions are being made about buildings’ design or construction.

The fire brigade has no legal power to approve a building’s design nor has any role in checking how it has been constructed but when it does get to inspect buildings it regularly finds some right horrors, including:

- Significant construction defects, such as flawed compartmentation between flats which can allow fire and smoke to spread throughout buildings

- Critical fire safety systems, such as mechanical smoke ventilation, that are either not installed as per the original design, are poorly designed, or not functional

- People in control of buildings do not understand or know what fire safety measures are in place, or how to maintain them.

London Fire Brigade has submitted its recommendations1 to Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations, commissioned following the Grenfell fire.

It says that there needs to be a clearer definition of who is responsible for what under fire safety legislation.

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It also calls for a clampdown on companies who act as a building control body as well as offering fire engineering design advice without clear separation between the two roles. It says that some of these companies advertise how quickly they can get designs through the building control process, promoting speed over proper scrutiny. There is a need for approving authorities to maintain their independence and impartiality within the process, fire chiefs says.

It also says there needs to be a robust independent inspection programme that ensures the fire safety elements of a building’s design are translated into the finished construction.

London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner for fire safety Dan Daly said: “It took a tragedy for everyone to take fire safety seriously and listen to what the Brigade has been saying for years about skills. Urgent action is needed to better regulate those who are responsible for ensuring a building’s design, construction and maintenance are fit for purpose.

 “There are countless points where a dangerous decision can be made about a building’s design or upkeep and hardly any measures to ensure that the people making those decisions are sufficiently experienced and properly qualified.

 “This means that potentially dangerous design flaws could exist within a building until we either find it at a later date, or in the worst case scenario, it is exposed by a serious fire.

 “We don’t have the legal powers or the resources to check the entire fabric of a building but we often uncover dangerous flaws that we can’t ignore.” 

1. London Fire Brigade's submissions to the Hackitt Review can be read in full at  http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/Documents/LFB_Response_Independent_review_of_building_regulations_and_fire_safety_17OCT2017.pdf

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