Grenfell - a look at what the experts were saying in 2011

6 March 2018

Read what the fire sector experts were predicting back in 2011 at our RISCAuthority seminar.

These last few months have seen much media coverage surrounding the issues that emerged from the tragedy at Grenfell Tower on 13 June 2017. For the fire sector, this was merely a result of what industry experts have been warning about for years.

Back in March 2011, the FPA’s sister company RISCAuthority delivered a seminar for its members, which highlighted the very dangers that have now sadly been realised. Below is the round up article published by Fire Risk Management Journal in April 2011 following the event. 

Some 130 delegates – a mix of RISCAuthority members and others from the insurance and fire sectors – heard about its latest work to promote safe and sustainable buildings, in a day of discussion that also covered the Fire Futures review, government policy, business continuity, arson prevention and timber-framed construction risks.

Building Regulations

Next up was Brian Martin from the Department of Communities and Local Government’s Sustainable Buildings Division, who outlined plans to update the Building Regulations in England and Wales. Last year, the Government carried out a consultation exercise, seeking ideas on how the regulations could be improved or slimmed down. One of the drivers behind the review is the need to reduce the regulatory burden on the building industry, particularly the house-building sector, during the fragile economic recovery, while also making it easier for duty-holders to comply with the regulations. There were several hundred responses, which provided valuable information for the Government to consider. 

However, there were not that many unexpected issues or suggestions. Indeed, the key theme to emerge, said Mr Martin, is that stakeholders generally think the existing Building Regulations regime is fit for purpose, although there are things that can be improved.

The plan now is to examine a number of areas and develop detailed proposals for consultation – with a particular focus on deregulation and streamlining the technical and procedural aspects of the regulations. It is understood that there will be no changes to Part B of the regulations and the supporting guidance in Approved Document B (ADB), which deal with fire safety – despite calls for the existing regulations to be amended to require the greater provision of sprinklers and address concerns over timber-frame construction (see p.10).

Fire Futures

The future protection of the built environment was also explored by Mike Wood, who examined the challenges and opportunities posed by the Fire Futures review (see ‘Fire Futures’,  FRM, March 2011, p.9).

Mr Wood, head of fire protection at Pilkington and chair of the Fire Safety Development Group, said the strategic review, which proposed a wide-ranging overhaul of the fire sector in England, could be a new dawn.

However, he warned that, as the fire sector works with the Government to reshape fire service delivery and enhance building risk management, a critical issue must be addressed: the fire community must take sufficient steps to identify and analyse the trends happening now in construction, to see how they affect the basic resilience of the built environment to fire.

Expanding his argument, Mr Wood illustrated how construction practice and technology is advancing rapidly. 

Taller and more complex buildings are being designed, often involving innovative construction methods. There are also larger and more mixed occupancies. And yet, he said, the robustness of these buildings against fire is not being analysed in detail.

He outlined the proposals within Fire Futures to improve fire safety in the built environment – including better guidance and skills development to improve competency, moves to eliminate the current ‘disconnect’ between the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and the Building Regulations, and more collaboration and knowledge sharing. Mr Wood also suggested that a sector-owned fire safety national building code could be created, to form the basis for a coherent set of practical standards and benchmarks.

Timber-frame analysis

Perhaps the issue of the moment – fire risks on timber-frame construction sites – was under the spotlight too.

Dr Jim Glockling, the director of RISCAuthority and technical director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), explained how a number of fires in recent years have high-lighted the significant risks posed by timber-frame building sites. These fires are characterised by rapid fire spread, enormous radiated heat and the large spread of embers, often leading to the total loss of the structure, including completed parts, and causing fires in adjacent properties (see ‘Timber-framed concerns’, FRM, April 2010, p.10).

He went on to outline recent moves to address timber-frame concerns. For example, the SiteSafe initiative ensures that manufacturing member companies of the UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA) working on large projects (four storeys or more and/or with an aggregate floor area of more than 2,500m2) give clear and concise information and assistance to the principal contractor regarding fire safety on construction sites.

In addition, UKTFA and the Chief Fire Officers Assoc-iation (CFOA) have formed a Timber Frame Working Party. 

It is working to improve security and site housekeeping, ensure that local fire services are notified of timber projects, and examine panel preparations to reduce timber exposure. 

However, said Dr Glockling, the working party will probably not consider the full range of risks and mitigation options, because many of the solutions could curtail design options or negate the cost-benefits of the timber construction technique.

Various other measures are being considered, including the installation of temporary sprinklers on large timber-frame sites, increased surveillance during non-work hours to counter the threat of arson, and a more rigorous building inspection process to check the quality of workmanship (see ‘Capital growth’, FRM, February 2011, p.7).

Dr Glockling also set out the results of a statistical analysis of timber-frame fires in the USA and the UK, carried out by RISCAuthority’s passive working group. This found that timber fire risks in the UK are greater than in America, where its use as a construction material is more established. 

He called for more research and investigation of the risks.

Concerns over timber can primarily be resolved by amending ADB, he argued, but the guidance only seems to be updated following incidents involving loss of life, rather than property damage. Mr Martin’s earlier comments – that ADB will not be amended in the upcoming Building Regulations review – appeared to endorse this view.

To continue reading the full article please click here

  • Download Brian Martin, DCLG presentation on the Future of Building Regulations here
  • Download Mike Wood, PilkingtonGroup presentation on Fire Futures and creating a National Building Code here
  • Download Dr Jim Glockling, FPA presentation on Timber Frame Construction stats here
  • Download Peter Wilkinson, FPA presentation on Fire Engineering for Buisiness Resilience here
  • Download Lee Howell's presentation on Reducing Arson here
  • Download George Fordyce, NHBC presentation on Raising Standards to Protect Homeowners here


Grenfell - a look at what the experts were saying in 2011