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What lessons can ANZ learn from Grenfell Tower?

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The Grenfell Tower disaster has triggered a wide-ranging review of building safety in the UK and around the world. How could such a devastating blaze happen? Could it happen again, in the UK or elsewhere?

Hywel Davies, Technical Director of CIBSE has been closely involved in the industry response to Grenfell Tower, where the cladding caught fire and 72 people died. He is also involved in the government review of building regulations and fire safety.

Last month Hywel toured CIBSE ANZ, as part of The Anatomy of the Smart Building seminar series, with stops in SA and QLD to present on the Grenfell Tower inquiry to the CIBSE membership.
There are two formal inquires currently in progress into this disaster, a Police Inquiry and a formal Public Inquiry, led by retired judge Sir Martin Moore Bick.

In addition, an Independent Review into Building Regulations and Fire Safety was carried out by Dame Judith Hackett, FREng, CEng. This focussed particularly on high rise residential buildings and was published in May 2018.

Dame Judith concluded that the current regulatory regime is not fit for purpose, and made 53 recommendations relating to the regulatory system, the competence of practitioners in both construction and operation of buildings, oversight of regulations and standards, and a system for residents to be heard. Some of the questions that the Grenfell Fire had raised include:

• How many more buildings have similar cladding (some 459 in UK)
• Incidence of similar fires throughout the world, and their consequences
• Possible consequences of energy upgrades which did not fully address fire safety on the disaster.
• Confusion over the current Building Regulations, weak enforcement and a lack of real financial penalty for not complying.
• The need for more rigorous recognition of professional competency and qualifications of those in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings.
• Assurance to residents of similar building that risks are being managed and mitigated.

It was also noted that Building Codes had come to be viewed as a cost burden, not an important public safety measure, a view that was supported by the coalition government between 2010 and 2015.

Evidence was gathered from CIBSE and the Society of Fa├žade Engineering, a Division of CIBSE, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Construction Industry Council, with CIBSE playing a leading role in these submissions.

Based on evidence to date, at Grenfell Tower there was only one fire escape stair, no sprinklers in the building and some fire doors were reported to have been propped open.

Hywel concluded that the risks in Australia may be just as serious, with a fragmented industry, complicated regulations and evidence of non-compliant or defective work.

Seminar presentation slides

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