“Siloed thinking” not cladding to blame for Grenfell Tower fire claims report

Ignorance, indifference and inadequate regulation led to the Grenfell Tower disaster, not its cladding alone, claims a new report, which does not recommend a ban on the combustable building materials blamed for the fire

Overseen by engineer Judith Hackitt, the Building a Safer Future report reviewed current building and fire-safety regulations and how they related to the fatal fire in the west London tower block.

It claims that four key factors contributed to the “system failure” during renovation works: ignorance about existing regulation and guidance; indifference about public safety; lack of clarity on the responsibility of roles; and inadequate rule enforcement.

“The issues… have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice,” reads Hackitt’s foreword to the report.

“There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe,” she said.

The Grenfell Tower was started by a faulty refrigerator on 14 June 2017 and killed a reported 71 people.

Report does not recommend ban on combustible cladding

The spread of the flames is believed to have been accelerated by combustible aluminium-composite cladding, which was applied to the 24-storey residential block during renovation works by Studio E Architects and Rydon in 2016.

But Hackitt’s report claims too much focus has been placed on the faults of the cladding rather than on reviewing the system as a whole. As such, the report does not include the ban on combustible cladding that had been expected.

“This is most definitely not just a question of the specification of cladding systems, but of an industry that has not reflected and learned for itself, nor looked to other sectors,” reads the report.

“This does not mean that all buildings are unsafe. Interim mitigation and remediation measures have been put in place where necessary for existing high-rise residential buildings to assure residents of their safety regarding fire risk,” it continues.

Following the fire, the government ordered emergency testing of the cladding on 4,000 towers across the UK. Several blocks found to have the same cladding at Grenfell Tower were stripped of their facades as a precautionary measure.

UK government to foot £400 million recladding bill

Earlier this week, UK prime minister Theresa May announced the government would foot the £400 million bill of removing and replacing dangerous cladding on tower blocks. Residents previously feared they would be left out of pocket by works to replace cladding similar in style to that applied to Grenfell Tower.

“The debate continues to run about whether or not aluminium cladding is used for thermal insulation, weather proofing, or as an integral part of the fabric, fire safety and integrity of the building,” states the report. “This illustrates the siloed thinking that is part of the problem we must address. It is clear that in this type of debate the basic intent of fire safety has been lost.”

“We must also begin thinking about buildings as a system so that we can consider the different layers of protection that may be required to make that building safe on a case-by-case basis.”

RIBA calls report a “missed opportunity”

Hackitt – who was made a dame for her services to health and safety, and engineering – was commissioned to lead the independent review of building regulations and fire safety, following the Grenfell Tower fire.

The report focused on renewing guidelines for high-rise residential buildings over 10 storeys tall.

Responding to the publication today, the Royal British Institute of Architects (RIBA) said the report was a “missed opportunity”.

“This review should have been a defining moment – a set of findings to bring real and meaningful change to the complexity and confusion surrounding core building regulations guidance,” said the president of the professional body, Ben Derbyshire.

“We are extremely concerned that it has failed to act on the urgent need to immediately protect life safety through a more detailed programme of simplified and improved regulations, standards and guidance.”

RIBA’s Expert Group on Fire Safety, set up in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, is campaigning for the use of only non-combustible cladding on blocks, more than one route of escape and retro-fitting sprinklers in older towers.

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Author: Jessica Mairs