DAME JUDITH Hackitt, speaking at a health and safety industry event, warned that it would be ‘impossible’ to rule out another Grenfell Tower type fire if regulations aren’t changed.
Dame Judith’s final report on building regulations and fire safety included 53 recommendations for changing fire safety regulations, but ‘stopped short’ of proposing a ban on flammable cladding, though the government later said it would open a consultation on a ban. Her review was launched last year after the Grenfell Tower fire, with its interim review last December finding that a ‘universal shift in culture’ is needed to rebuild trust ‘among residents of high-rise buildings’.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s annual international conference saw Dame Judith deliver a talk, in which she stated that she was ‘truly shocked’ about the standards she had found in the built environment when she undertook the review. She also warned that it was ‘impossible to rule out’ another ‘catastrophic event’ like Grenfell ‘if changes aren’t made’ to the regulatory system.
On this point, she noted that it was ‘vital’ that there was a culture change ‘implemented as soon as possible’, while the ‘horrors of Grenfell are still fresh in people’s memories’. Part of such a culture change would involve the construction industry ‘having the same sense of care for those using buildings as it does for those involved in constructing them’.
Dame Judith commented: ‘When I looked from the outside into standards in the built environment, what I encountered was truly shocking. The system for fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings was weak and ineffective. People actually said things like “we always knew something like this would happen”. They knew the system wasn’t working but didn’t know how to fix it. There was a race to the bottom. Companies were looking to do things as cheap as possible, getting around the rules.
‘It was about cost, not quality. Unless we fix the system, we have no way of guaranteeing that there won’t be another catastrophic event. We need to get to a point where people those who construct a building are as responsible for those who use it over the next ten or 20 years as they are employee safety. What we are calling for is collaboration and joined-up thinking across the built environment sector, not self-interested groups protecting their own turf, something I have seen a lot of.’
In regard to the recommendations, Dame Judith said that some industry groups and the government are looking at how to implement some of her measures, including bringing together bodies including the Health and Safety Executive, local authority building control and fire and rescue services to have the ‘same risk-based approach as there is across industry’, alongside ‘stronger powers of enforcement’ that would ‘provide more deterrent to cost-cutting’.
She added: ‘Right now, the level of penalties when people are caught out is not strong enough. There is no deterrent. We also need a system where people can raise concerns in the knowledge they will be acted on. The same goes for within industry, for example we don’t want people thinking they don’t know who to tell if there are concerns.’
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