London Fire Commissioner Calls for a Robust System of Risk Assessment

Stephen Walsh QC, representing the London Fire Commissioner, provided a brief opening statement as Module 3 of the Inquiry started its work earlier this week. 

This module will look at the fire risk assessment made of Grenfell Tower by its appointed risk assessor, Carl Stokes. The London Fire Commissioner’s opening statement focuses its attention on the fire risk assessment and in particular the assessment of the external walls.  

Mr Walsh made explicit reference to the work of Dr Barbara Lane, an expert providing advice to the Inquiry. He said: 

One aspect of Dr Lane’s analysis, in Chapter 10 of her report, does require some observation in these opening remarks: namely, the London Fire Brigade’s position as to whether or not the external envelope of the building was caught by the Fire Safety Order.  

“The desirability of its inclusion was beyond doubt; the lack of clarity within the Fire Safety Order as it was originally (and is currently) drafted is commensurately undesirable.” 

The Fire Safety Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, seeks to amend the Fire Safety Order so that it will apply to the building’s structure and external walls.  

The issue of whether the external envelope of the building lay within the scope of the Fire Safety Order was the subject of correspondence from different principal officers from the London Fire Brigade after both the Lakanal House fire of 2009 and the Shepherd’s Court fire in Hammersmith in 2016. 

Recognising the absence of the external envelope in the scope of the Fire Safety Order, Mr Walsh said: “The fire risk assessment process does not, and cannot, function as an audit of the built and constructed environment: a fire risk assessor instructed by a Responsible Person is dependent on the adequacy and accuracy of information supplied.” 

The opening statement sets out how principal officers from the London Fire Brigade built pragmatic partnerships with local authorities by sharing information known about fire safety risk and by promoting public safety.  

Since the fire in 2017, the London Fire Brigade has commissioned research from the University of Bath that looks at the physiological effects of firefighters working in high rise buildings where active and passive fire measures may have failed.  

Further research is also being carried out into how fire survival guidance information seen by those in fire control rooms can also be viewed by those working on the incident ground. “It is expected that the introduction of this new system will positively influence the development of operational procedures by fire and rescue services nationwide.”  

Concluding his opening statement, Mr Walsh said:  

The safety of occupants of high-rise residential buildings and the ability of fire and rescue services to carry out their work effectively in case of fire, is wholly dependent upon a robust system of risk assessment and the rigorous amelioration of the identified risks by Responsible Persons.”  

The full statement can be read here.  

The Inquiry continues.