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Disappointment meets Hackitt Review recommendations
Published:  17 May, 2018

Suppliers say they are “disappointed” that Dame Judith Hackitt has not recommended that it should be mandatory for sprinklers to be fitted into tower blocks in her review of Building Regulations and fire safety rules.

Dame Judith’s review, Building a Safer Future, was published this morning and was conducted in the wake of last June’s Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 71 people. In it, she says that indifference and ignorance led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices that meant cost was a higher priority than safety.

She identifies a “systemic problem” of building firms using ambiguity around the Building Regulations to “game the system” and do things as cheaply as possible. She also finds ignorance about the rules, a lack of clarity about who takes responsibility, and inadequate oversight.

“The above issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through indifference or because the system does not facilitate good practice,” she says.

Dame Judith (pictured) sets out a series of proposals to make tower blocks safer to live in, but stops short of recommending a mandatory requirement for sprinklers to be fitted and a ban on flammable cladding, which helped the fire to spread at Grenfell and has since been found on hundreds of other tower blocks across the UK.

She says neither step will address the root causes of the problems within the construction industry that led to the tragedy.

Instead, she recommends:

• An “outcomes-based approach” to regulations to be overseen by a new regulator

• Clearer roles and responsibilities throughout the building design and construction process, as well as during a building’s occupation

• Residents be consulted over decisions affecting the safety of their homes

• A more rigorous and transparent product testing regime

• The construction industry helps to strengthen the competence of those involved in building work and establishes a body to oversee that.

But sanitary products manufacturer Geberit is “disappointed” that her review does not go far enough.

UK MD Mark Larden said: “The Dame Judith Hackitt Review has clearly identified areas for improvement around fire safety, including the need to assure competence levels for those installing and maintaining fire safety and other safety-critical systems, within the wider scope of safety management procedures. But many have already argued that it doesn’t go far enough.

“It is disappointing that there were no recommendations made around the installation of fire safety and suppression systems, such as sprinklers, in new or existing buildings – particularly existing tower blocks.

“Sprinkler systems can protect lives and buildings, and reduce the burden on public sector funding. It is disappointing that these benefits are not being taken advantage of through mandatory installations.”

His disappointment was echoed by the London Assembly’s planning committee, which released its own report into fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire calling for sprinklers to be fitted in all blocks over 18m tall.

Report author Navin Shah AM said today: “It’s very disappointing that this review of building and fire regulations has not recommended sprinklers or other similar systems to be made mandatory in all buildings above 18m. The Fire Commissioner said introducing sprinklers in this way is a ‘no-brainer’, so it’s deeply concerning that the government continues to overlook the seriousness of this issue.

“The appalling tragedy of Grenfell must never happen again. This is a dangerous missed opportunity to ensure people can feel safe in their homes and I would urge a rapid rethink.”

However, Etex Building Performance has welcomed Dame Judith’s call for more rigorous product testing. Technical Director Nigel Morrey said: “We welcome the Hackitt Review’s calls for more rigorous materials testing as well as the restriction of assessments in lieu of tests, rather than an outright ban. Test data which reflects real conditions should form the bedrock of all construction product development but, as the Review concludes, desktop studies can provide a viable route to compliance if used in a responsible and appropriate way by competent people.

“Crucially, the new British Standard for evaluating test data must clearly set out the type of evidence required for assessments, using data that mirrors on-site conditions as closely as possible. It also needs to establish clear parameters for ensuring the competence of individuals performing these analyses. Both the government’s consultation on desktop studies and the Hackitt Review reference the importance of ‘competent staff working for an organisation that is accredited’ but, in our experience, this is not enough. Working for an accredited organisation does not guarantee capability of the individual.

“It is now critical that the assessment process proposed for cladding materials is also applied to other building products. There is a real danger that the industry has one set of rules for cladding systems and a different set for other materials which will only create confusion and an unworkable two-tier system. We need to apply this best practice across the board.”