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Fire safety in a post-Grenfell world

The Fire Breakout at the ABI’s Annual Conference represents an opportunity to discuss with leading experts where both the Government and the insurance industry has got to in managing fire risk since the awful tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

Over many years, the public policy environment in relation to fire safety has been one of the areas where successive Governments have seen opportunities to strip out “red tape” and to de-regulate. It took the deaths of more than 70 people in a high-rise tower in West London to change that direction of travel, yet still change seems remarkably slow and somewhat cumbersome.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s wide-ranging review of Building Regulations described the system as “not fit for purpose” and while there has been an understandable focus on the issues associated with combustible cladding, we must remember that it was the building control system overall that allowed combustible ACM cladding to be manufactured, certified, incorporated into designs by architects, approved for use by authorities and installed by builders. So to focus only on the cladding itself at the expense of a forensic examination of the wider building control system would represent  a significant missed opportunity.

Dame Judith’s report confirmed our view that Grenfell represented a systemic failure of the entire building control system. And at the ABI we have spent significant time with Ministers and officials from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and other fire sector stakeholders to make the case for meaningful reform to the whole system.

From the ABI’s perspective that includes:

  • Maintaining a focus on achieving meaningful change and to continue to shine a light on Government recommendations if they do not go far enough.
  • Continuing to challenge Government on the pace of action.
  • Requiring a full review of Approved Document B – the guidance relating to building regulations for fire safety - immediately.
  • Calling for further detail on the recently announced ban on combustible material while putting pressure on the Government to reflect on their failure to incorporate a wider ban – limiting the ban to certain buildings over 18m in height would represent a failure to properly protect some of the most vulnerable in our society.
  • Reforming the current testing regime for materials used on the exterior of buildings. The test must fully reflect real-world scenarios to give all who rely on it the confidence that the products perform as we would want and expect – the current
  • shortcomings in the test are an issue that recent ABI research highlighted as a major concern and are being considered by British Standards.
  • Government mandating the use of sprinklers in complex buildings, such as large warehouses, or those housing some of the most vulnerable like schools and care homes.

It is right and proper that the review processes underway engage the experts, consider the evidence and assess the options and that does take time, but the reforms are needed and it is incumbent on all of us in the fire safety and insurance communities to ensure that these much-needed changes become a reality.

We look forward to discussing these vital issues for the future of property insurance and considering where next in the delivery of the much-needed reform to prevent further awful tragedies.

Join in the discussion at the Fire Safety in a Post-Grenfell Word breakout session at the 2019 ABI Annual Conference. Find out more and book your place now.  

Last updated 13/02/2019