Hackitt Interim Report: 5 Observations that Prompt Call For A ‘Universal Shift in Culture’ to Improve Fire Safety
- Date: Friday 12th January 2018
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Set up in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 71 people in June, the interim review establishes that “the current overall system is not working effectively and needs to be overhauled” and that building regulations are “not fit for purpose”. Approved Document B – the document setting out the regulations – encourages cost-cutting.
Former Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, and Chair of the review, Dame Judith Hackitt, states that a “universal shift in culture” is required to rebuild trust with residents of high-rise buildings.
The news will be welcomed by the Fire Sector Federation, which has called for a revamp of the regulations.
The interim report has highlighted several major shortcomings in regulations and other areas affecting fire safety that will shape the more detailed recommendations set out in the final report, scheduled for release in Spring 2018.
1. Privatisation of building control has created conflicts of interest
Concern is expressed about increasing privatisation of the building inspection regime, specifically that “third-party inspections are open to abuse given the potential conflict of interests, with growing levels of mutual dependence between developers and contracted inspectors”. The loss of expertise in building control is also highlighted.
2. Regulations encourage cost-cutting
There is documentary evidence to suggest that the renovation of Grenfell Tower was scaled back due to limits imposed by government on council borrowing for housing.
The interim report states “It has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.”
Dame Hackitt has resolved to remedy the problem. “I have been shocked by some of the practices I have heard about and I am convinced of the need for a new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement for high-rise and complex buildings which will encourage everyone to do the right thing and will hold to account those who try to cut corners.”
3. Regulations are too complex and guidance spread too widely across myriad documents
The effectiveness of building regulations is undermined by a lack of clarity owing to their complexity. Furthermore, “Key definitions are unclear… leaving too much open to interpretation.”
Dame Hackitt added that “The regulations themselves are pretty simple but what sits below the building regulations is a whole series of guidance documents which stacked on top of one another would be about 2ft high”.
4. The entire supply chain must play a part in preventing further tragedies
All parties – including the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government – are being urged to collaborate to remedy the many problems identified.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dame Hackitt said that both the regulations and the people enforcing them must take a share of the responsibility for shortcomings in fire safety in the built environment. “When regulations are complex, it makes it quite difficult for people to penetrate that complexity to truly understand what they are required to do. There are issues of competence to be addressed as part of this.”
5. Residents’ concerns must be heard, responded to and, where justified, acted on
Attempts by a Grenfell action group were notoriously ignored. Two years before the fire Grenfell Tower residents had complained that the refurbishment had been done “using cheap materials” and that developers had “cut corners”.
They also claimed that the Conservative-led Kensington and Chelsea Council that owned the building had done nothing to address the concerns raised.
The interim report has recommended that a clear, quick and effective route for residents to raise concerns and be listened to, must be created.
The next phase of the review will focus on “overhauling [the regulations] in quite a significant way”. Dame Hackitt added: “There is clearly an opportunity to make [the regulations] that much simpler and to guide people to the right answer.”
Unsurprisingly, the recommendations will cover sprinklers and cladding. Both issues have attracted media attention; the former for not being mandatory and the latter for failing fire safety tests. Alarm systems and escape routes will also be among other facets of fire safety under consideration.
Dame Hackitt commented: “I’ve talked to over 300 people. Overwhelmingly the view that has been expressed to me is that this system needs improving, and it needs greater clarity, and I’m hopeful that’s what I’m going to bring to the system. The quicker we can get some [improvements] in place, the sooner we can build that level of reassurance that residents of high-rise buildings absolutely deserve.”
The interim report sets out six broad areas for change:
· ensuring that regulation and guidance is risk-based, proportionate and unambiguous
· clarifying roles and responsibilities for ensuring that buildings are safe
· improving levels of competence within the industry
· improving the process, compliance and enforcement of regulations
· creating a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to
· improving testing, marketing and quality assurance of products used in building construction
A summit involving government and representatives from the building industry will take place in the New Year, with a final report to be published in Spring 2018.
Dame Hackitt summarises, “The mindset of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility for problems and shortcomings of others must stop.”
She further adds, “The regulatory system for safely designing, constructing and managing buildings is not fit for purpose. The current system is highly complex and there is confusion about the roles and responsibilities at each stage. In many areas, there is a lack of competence and accreditation.
While this does not mean all buildings are unsafe, it does mean we need to build a more effective system for the future. That is why I am today calling for the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to come together to identify how to overcome these shortcomings together.”