How has the construction industry responded to the Grenfell tower fire?
The Grenfell Tower fire marked one of the low points of the summer of 2017. On the night of 14th June a fire started in the block of flats in North Kensington and caused 71 deaths and more than 70 injuries. First reports of the blaze were received by the emergency services around midnight and the fire continued to burn for another 60 hours. The tragedy proved to be a shock for London – for local authorities and for the construction industry.
The fire itself
It is thought that the cause of the fire was accidental – believed to be a fridge freezer on the fourth floor of the building. What was shocking for everyone involved was the ferocity of the fire and the speed at which it spread. That’s something that is believed to have been accelerated by the exterior cladding of the building – a type commonly used but which, on closer inspection, seems to have had many unsuitable qualities. The fire also threw up multiple issues of poor maintenance and building neglect, from allegations of fire doors that didn’t work through to the absence of functional smoke alarms. Many of those who could have provided clarity on the process of the fire from the inside sadly never made it out.
The response from the industry
Like most people in the country, the majority of the construction industry expressed shock, sadness and regret over what happened at Grenfell Tower, as well as the desire to make change. Nathan Garnett, Event Director of UK Construction Week said, “It seems incumbent on the industry that it must act, and fast, as a sign of respect for those that lost their lives. By making dramatic improvements in the quality and safety of building in the UK, the industry can do something to demonstrate to those who have lost people that action is being taken.” The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) convened its own ‘Commission of Past Presidents’ to look into build quality issues in the construction sector, how management and processes could be more robust and quality standards increased.
There is a widespread recognition that there may be within construction certain practices or behaviours that, although perhaps not the root cause of Grenfell, could have contributed to its failed prevention. Immediate CIOB Past President Paul Nash said: “I think we have to look…at the behaviours that have led to a lack of focus on quality at all stages of the build process, from design and procurement through to construction and re-fit.” Fire Sector Federation Paul Fuller agreed with this sentiment, saying that there were serious concerns about the whole design, specification, supply chain and construction process, the inconsistencies and the fragmentation that can occur.
Grenfell, going forward
The sad events of the Grenfell Tower fire have spurred many into action, including a government task force taking over parts of the function of the council responsible for the building. An independent review of building safety regulations and fire safety has been commissioned and urgent safety tests carried out on other buildings that have the same type of cladding. In September 2017 a public enquiry was opened into the tragedy and many public figures have expressed a desire to ensure that this kind of disaster never happens again. As London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said, the public enquiry may be the “best opportunity to get the truth.”
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