It has been just over a year since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the worst residential fire in the UK since World War 2. It has also been just over a year since, in response, Dame Judith Hackitt – former chair of the HSE – was asked to undertake an independent review of the effectiveness of building and fire regulations on high rise buildings.
Unlike the public enquiry launched at the same time, which will investigate the causes of the Grenfell fire and the type of cladding used, Hackitt’s purview was to assess the system of safety regulations regarding high rise buildings. According to Hackitt, the call for evidence that her report instigated made it clear that the current regulation system is weak and ineffective because it is confusing, inconsistent, ineffectively applied, and too easy to find ways around.
Hackitt’s report reveals several flaws in current regulations. She discusses the fact that at the moment there are two parallel sets of regulations which come into play with regard to high rise buildings: CDM, which is focused on the safety of workers and does not apply to residents, and the building and fire safety regulations, which apply to occupants. She argues that this overly complex and impractical system needs to replaced by a much simpler version. She notes that there are currently different regulations for common parts of high rise buildings and individual residential units, and suggests that fire prevention and fire control can only be truly effective if the entire building is treated as an integrated system. She argues that there is an obvious conflict of interest in companies being permitted to pay an inspector to regulate them when these inspectors have no power of enforcement and their only recourse is to make a report to the local building control. Finally, she contends that the current sanctioning system for those who do not comply with regulations is inadequate, as prosecution cases are generally not pursued as the cost of the case tends to be higher than the penalty.
The solution, according to Hackitt, is an overhaul of the whole system, and her report makes 53 recommendations to create a simpler but more robust framework for high rise buildings. In these recommendations, she advocates for a stronger and tougher regulatory regime, with a stronger enforcement and sanctioning package so that failures to comply are met with criminal sanctions and large fines. She recommends the creation of a new regulatory body that will produce simpler, detailed guidance on how to meet regulatory standards. She advises that the current permissioning regime in Scotland, in which only buildings demonstrated to be safe are allowed to break ground and to be occupied, be enforced throughout the UK. She argues that there must be a clear duty holder at every stage of the construction process and that competence needs to be increased throughout the construction sector. Having repeatedly heard during her investigation about the difficulties residents had often faced in raising their concerns, she also emphasises the importance of empowering residents to report any dangerous occurrences and providing a clear means for them to do so.
Her report, then, suggests actions to be taken both by the government and by the construction industry. The legislation will take time, and it won’t be until early Autumn when we will know exactly how these new processes will be put in place. The changes are coming though, and they will apply to both new builds and buildings that are currently in use. Hackitt’s recommendations will, at least at first, only apply to high rise buildings with 10 floors or more, which some are suggesting is too limited. However, this already means that when the new regulations come into force 2000-3000 buildings will have to be reviewed.
Until legislation comes into force, it is suggested that construction companies should implement the suggested changes to their systems when constructing or refurbishing high rise buildings as good practice, to avoid having to do additional work later.
If you would like advice on how to adapt your building or fire safety systems to be in line with the recommendations in Hackitt’s report, contact us on 0141 244 0181 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.