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Looking forward: Improvements made post the Grenfell Tower fire

Global Director of Building Standards, RICS, provides an overview of the situation, with regard to fire and safety of buildings, in the United Kingdom

| | Dec 11, 2018 | 1:52 pm
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Gary Strong, Global Director of Building Standards, Professional Standards Directorate, RICS

Dubai, UAE, 11 December 2018: Following the Grenfell Tower fire in West London on June 14, 2017, the UK government has been working closely with industry experts to review the Building Regulations and the designs, construction and management of high-risk buildings. This comment was made by Gary Strong, Global Director of Building Standards, Professional Standards Directorate, RICS, during the Safety Design in Buildings Conference, on December 11, in Abu Dhabi.

“In the UK, initially, there was an overemphasis on thermal insulation instead on fire safety,” he said. And since the event, a deliberate attempt has been made to improve the state of fire safety in residential buildings. Recounting the events that unfolded on the day, he said, “When the fire broke out, the windows were open because it was summer; as a result, the fire spread to over 10 storeys in 10 minutes.” It was a single staircase building, with a concrete frame, which might have intensified the heat, he said. The toxic smoke, Strong said, could leave a person unconscious, if inhaled in three breaths, making it difficult for people to survive the escape in the building, which had a single staircase. Elaborating, he said, “The building had no fire sprinklers, as it was built in 1974.”

Speaking on some of the steps taken to improve the situation since the event, Strong said that, today, there are retrofit projects taken up to fit sprinklers in old and existing buildings. An Independent Expert Advisory Panel was set up and seven large-scale BS8414 tests were conducted, he said. Making the call for further change, he said, “We need more attention to be paid to fire safety.” He added that fire sprinklers have been another area of controversy.  “Sprinklers,” he said, “are mandatory in all residential buildings in Wales and Scotland but not throughout England.” Fire sprinklers, he said, cannot be seen as the panacea but might definitely help in the event of a fire.

What we need today, Strong said, are consistent standards and regulations. He said, “There is also need for awareness and education among professionals in the industry and also people in the buildings.” Strong added that training, such as fire drills, must be conducted and fire engineers are key to the solution.

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