Grenfell spurs action on fire safety

  • The Grenfell Tower disaster was a tragedy on an unprecedented scale in the UK
  • It marked a watershed moment for local councils and housing providers, inspiring a renewed focus on fire risk
  • At a recent Zurich Municipal event, customers shared how they are responding to Grenfell with positive steps to improve fire safety

The Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017 claimed 71 lives, and six months later more than 100 families were still without permanent homes over Christmas.

The fire, which started in an electric appliance and spread rapidly through a 24-storey tower block, has raised concerns about modern building methods, public finances and fire safety regulations.

While Grenfell’s lasting impact on public policy is still to be determined, Zurich Municipal’s recent customer forum highlighted what a watershed moment it has been for the country’s local authorities and housing providers.

Fresh look at fire risk

Towards the end of 2017, we held a number of events across the country, inviting customers to join us to discuss the latest opportunities and risks facing their organisations.

In addition to topics such as commercialisation and safeguarding, fire was high on many organisations’ agendas following the Grenfell tragedy.

“After Grenfell, we are taking a fresh look at fire risk,” remarked one representative from a London housing association. “Everything from sprinkler systems to our fire doors are being checked to confirm that they are suitable and in good working order.”

Many organisations shared similar stories, explaining how the tragedy had renewed and refocussed their approach to fire risk management. Grenfell was viewed as a “game-changer”, and it was felt that approaches to fire risk going forward needed to change.

Modern building methods in the spotlight

Modern methods of construction continue to receive significant attention following the Grenfell Tower fire.

While offering benefits in areas such as environmental impact and cost reduction, many customers said that, prior to Grenfell, they had not fully appreciated the scale of loss that can result when their associated risks are not properly managed.

Cladding, in particular, has been the focus of much debate, as this was identified by investigators as a leading reason for how quickly the fire was able to spread.

“Cladding is now a big focus for us. Particularly on our taller developments,” said one social housing customer. “While compliant with building regulations, we have already taken the decision to remove cladding from two buildings, and plan to do so on another.”

Another social housing customer remarked: “We don’t have any blocks above six storeys, but appreciate that this doesn’t make us immune to a tragedy on the scale of Grenfell.

“Fire doesn’t just spread upwards, so we are re-assessing all of our larger developments to see how we can improve fire safety.”

Working together to tackle fire risk

The Grenfell Tower disaster has inspired enormous amounts of positive action – from the charitable responses of the wider community, to a renewed focus on fire safety, including a full public inquiry into the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire at Grenfell Tower.

In September, 100 days after the disaster, London Fire Brigade issued a plea to landlords and residents, reminding them of their roles and offering the service’s assistance in tackling fire risk.

And organisations are responding to this type of collaborative working. One housing provider shared: “We have been working closely with our local fire authority. They have been invaluable in helping us reduce fire risk and act upon the various lessons to be learnt from Grenfell.”