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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

CIH response to Grenfell Inquiry

31/10/2019


Terrie Alafat sets out CIH initial response. Find out what you can do now to prepare for the coming changes.

This week the first phase report from the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry was published. This deals mainly with the response to the fire, including the actions of the emergency services. However, there are recommendations within the report that will have an impact on those who own, manage and live in high-rise residential buildings.  We will be studying all the details of this part of the report to see what the implications are for the  sector and provide further information.

Terrie Alafat said “We welcome the publication of this report. We will continue to work closely with the sector and MHLCG on the regulatory reform of building safety, improving the competencies of those involved in the management and maintenance of high rise residential building and supporting the sector to prepare for the new regime. However, we won’t wait for the legislation to take action to make residents safe – there is much that can be done now. We will keep our members and the profession informed as the Inquiry progresses”.

Debbie Larner sets out what you should do now to prepare for the coming changes

Last month Dame Judith Hackitt stated “Trades and professionals working on higher risk residential buildings need to push ahead with plans to improve competences without waiting for Government to introduce new regulations.”

This week, the first phase report from the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry was published. This deals mainly with the response to the fire, including the actions of the emergency services. However, there are recommendations within the report that will have an impact on those who own, manage and live in high-rise residential buildings.  

So, the key message from both the Hackitt review and the Public Inquiry is that change is coming - we need to prepare for it now.

However, we know that this will come at a significant cost – the G15 recently calculated that the total cost of making buildings fire-safe could be as much as £6.9bn. In addition, the early adopters Group have estimated that ongoing costs of implementing the new regulatory system could be as much as £90,000 per building in scope per year. In our submission to the summer consultation – building a safer future – we called on government to create a “building safety fund” to support the remediation works on existing buildings. This was in part to recognise the systemic failure of the previous building safety regulations, and to safeguard from money being diverted away from developing much needed new supply.

That said, it is imperative that the homes that people live in are safe. This is being taken very seriously across the sector with many organisations investing millions into works to ensure that buildings are safe.

While we await the government’s response to the consultation, it is clear that many of the recommendations proposed will be adopted. So, it is not too early to start to prepare for the new regime we know is coming down the line fairly soon.

1.      Determine the safety of your existing buildings in scope and carry out remedial works as required.

Don’t assume your buildings are safe. Many organisations are now working with fire engineers to determine the compliance of existing buildings – many have been found to be “unsafe” and urgent works are being undertaken to ensure they are safe. Consider undertaking type 4 Fire Risk assessments. Develop an active asset management strategy to prioritise works. Remember to take account of Advice note 14 and other subsequent advice notes relating to balconies and timber cladding in particular.

2.      Assess the need for fire suppression systems

Carry out risk-based reviews on individual blocks to determine the efficacy of retrofitting appropriate fire suppression systems. This should include consultation with residents. Be transparent about the findings of each risk assessment so that residents can clearly understand why decisions were made – including any specific reasons not to retrofit.

 3.      Review business plans.

Government have announced a new cross-agency 'protection board' to oversee high-rise building and fire safety until the new building safety regulatory regime is fully operational. This could be operational fairly soon. As stated above, the costs associated with both remedial work and ongoing costs are going to be significant. You will need to review business plans to account for both short term and longer term costs associated with the new regime.

4.      Develop a training and awareness strategy.

It will be important to train all staff to raise awareness. Boards and executive teams will need to understand their core responsibilities and liabilities in relation to strategic fire safety. This tier will need to drive the culture of the organisation to embed fire safety across the organisation. Frontline staff will need the knowledge and awareness to understand the key risks associated with fire safety in their day-to-day roles and the ability to understand what remedial action needs to be taken/escalated.

5.      Decide which buildings will be in scope under the new regime

You will need to assess which buildings are in scope under the revised definition of 18 metres. You may also want to consider whether to include other buildings based on the risk and vulnerability of the residents.

6.      Determine who will be the accountable person for each building in scope

An ‘accountable person’ must be identified for each building in scope. This could be a body corporate but, where this is the case, a named individual at board level would be ultimately responsible for fire and structural safety in the building. Accountability cannot be transferred, and the accountable person would have to be registered with the regulator.

7.      Plan for the introduction of the Building Safety Manager

Consider the skills, behaviour and knowledge you currently have (mapped against the draft competency framework) in your organisation – who might do this role? How much would be delivered in house? How much would need to be contracted out?  What would need to be in the job description and person spec? How many buildings in scope would the BSM cover?

8.      Start to collate information for the safety cases.

The information you will be required to provide will be prescribed and the consultation document gives a good idea of the type of information you should start to bring together now. Where there are gaps, you will need to either understand how you will get the information required or make a case to the regulator for why it would not be proportionate to do this.

9.      Begin to develop your resident engagement strategies. 

It is likely that you will have all the information required already – again what will be required is detailed in the consultation – start pulling this together into a cohesive strategy for each of the buildings in scope. It should also be noted that under the proposal’s residents will have a key role in keeping their buildings safe with a clear obligation to cooperate with the “accountable person” and Building Safety Manager to keep the building safe.

We are developing a range of products and services to ensure that organisations have the knowledge and expertise to ensure that the homes that people live in are safe both now and in the future. Please do get in touch if you want to know more about how we can help.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry: recommendation relating to building owners and managers

 

The following recommendations made in the Grenfell Inquiry are focused on building owners and managers – it is not clear at this stage what will be mandated in legislation and whether this will be amalgamated into the proposed legislation to implement Hackitt recommendations. However, as stated above, many of the practical recommendations can be implemented prior to the new regulations/legislation.

  • draw up and keep under review evacuation plans, with copies provided to local fire and rescue services and placed in an information box on the premises
  • in addition, prepare personal evacuation plans for residents who may struggle to do so personally, with information about them stored in the premise’s information box
  • carry out urgent inspections of fire doors in all buildings containing separate dwellings, whether or not they are high rise
  • check doors at least every three months to ensure self-closing devices are working effectively
  • ensure all high-rise buildings have floors clearly marked in a prominent place, which would be visible in low light or smoky conditions and in a means that residents can understand
  • provide details of external walls and the materials used to the local fire service, and inform them of any change
  • provide paper and electronic versions of building plans of all high rises to local fire services
  • provide every building with a premises information box, including a copy of floor plans
  • carry out regular inspections of any lift required for use by firefighters and the mechanism that allows them to take control of it.


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