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Fire Protection Post-Grenfell: An interview with Stephen Adams, Chief Executive of BAFE



In conversation with UK Construction Online, Stephen Adams discusses attitudes to fire protection four weeks post-Grenfell and the implications for building regulations going forward.

Stephen is the Chief Executive of BAFE, an independent registration body for third party certified fire protection companies across the country.

Do you feel the current building regulations are rigorous enough in terms of fire safety?

There has been a move for many years, especially post-Lakenal House and Rosepark in Scotland, to completely review the building regulations regarding fire protection. But there is also the issue of the devolved governments, each of which has its own responsibilities and fire acts.

One of the issues that we are most keen to encourage is the question of ensuring that the original and updated fire risk assessment, from which all else stems, is carried out by a competent provider, with appropriate third party certification. However, even the best cannot test materials etc. so the requirements for all materials and construction methods also needs a serious review.

We’ve seen similar incidents in the past – Lakanal House, for instance. In your opinion, has enough been done to improve fire safety in the intervening years?

No. It’s been a piecemeal response at best. We do however understand the current strain the UK’s fire and rescue service are under and more help is required to enable them to perform fire safety inspections and to prosecute those who are not following legislation. This will send a stronger message that legislation must be upheld to protect people from the potential risk of fire.

Many people forget or ignore the fact that it is the building’s owner/occupier responsibility to source competent providers and ensure their building is safe from fire, and that begins with a quality fire risk assessment with any actions implemented.

Much has been made of Grenfell Tower’s apparent lack of active/passive fire protection systems. Do you see this as being true of high-rise social housing in general?

I am not an expert in the protection of houses in multiple occupation and high-rise buildings, but key issues include fire stopping, the appropriate use and installation of fire doors, and how best to use alarms. Bearing in mind that these are individual households, should all alarms go off if someone burns the toast? This may seem trite, but it’s true. The other key requirement is for all fire protection to be properly maintained to ensure that it works correctly and that it continues to be properly sited.

The sprinkler issue is not clear-cut either. It wouldn’t have stopped the cladding burning externally, but could it have stopped the original fire before reaching the cladding? We will have to wait for the results of the inquiry and information from London Fire Brigade to avoid any speculation.

What kind of active/passive fire protection systems would you expect to see in a high-rise building?

I cannot comment on a broad basis but this should be part of the review of the regulations. It must come back to the fire risk assessment for making recommendations for each building as appropriate.

Grenfell has exposed lax attitudes to fire prevention. In your experience, is the matter taken as seriously as it should be?

No. Over recent years there has been a steady reduction in fire deaths due to better materials, detection and procedures. That trend will continue despite, of course, this horrific case.

There are so many facets to ensuring fire protection is up to standard – building control, the role of the Fire and Rescue Service, the competence of providers, the material testing regime, competent maintenance and communication with property users. All of which is easy to criticise but much more difficult to implement and keep up-to-date.

Fire protection is a long-term issue and can easily fall out of the public and commercial conscience until the worst happens. Unless it is regularly reviewed that is, with systems maintained and procedures refreshed. And yet, how do you check inter-floor fire stopping once the building is finished, the ceilings are up and the interior decorated? The Fire Sector Federation (FSF), of which BAFE is a member, is campaigning for a review of Approved Document B to the Building Regulations which will address the current issues of fire safety during the building process. More information regarding this can be found on the FSF website: http://firesectorfederation.co.uk

In light of this tragedy, what would you like to see happen next?

I’d like to see some quick actions regarding competence of providers and an expert review of requirements. But this would be at a cost to both the public and the private sector.

It is important to use competent providers, certified in the specific service that you require. BAFE provide a free search tool available online to find these third party certified competent providers near you to help fulfil your fire safety obligations. For more information please visit: www.bafe.org.uk

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