Risk Mitigation – Post Grenfell Tower
Building Relationships

Risk Mitigation – Post Grenfell Tower

Ignorance, Indifference, lack of clarity and inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools: twelve words that summarise Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety following the Grenfell Tower disaster of 2017.

 

The dreadful events surrounding that fire were not simply the product of a single failure but the culmination of a whole series of failures at virtually every level. Not only did the fire reveal fundamental flaws in the materials used; it identified a significant shortfall in performance that is (or has been) endemic in the building industry for many years.

 

For many building owners and operators, the focus on ACM rainscreen cladding is one issue; but the reality is that the standards of passive fire protection within contemporary buildings are often woeful and have created a legacy of problems that will have far reaching implications for all stakeholders.

 

Ensuring the safety for people who live and work in buildings is the responsibility of those who procure, design create and maintain those buildings. This is an onerous obligation and in the highly charged post -Grenfell climate the courts will not be expected to take a lenient line with transgressors.

 

For property owners, and particularly those that own and maintain a stock of residential property –social housing, PRS or student living- one of the early actions will have been to assess their stock and determine the extent to which changes will need to be made.

 

According to Land Registry assessments there are circa 2-3000 high risk residential buildings (HRRB’s).

 

To qualify as an HRRB the building needs to be ten or more storeys high. Notwithstanding the ten storey criteria, very many low and medium rise buildings also suffer from cladding problems such as:

  • Defective or missing cavity barriers
  • Defective or missing fire stopping
  • Incorrectly fixed cladding panels
  • Poorly installed insulation
  • Missing or defective fire protection to steelwork
  • Poorly installed and or sealed linings
  • Defective or unprotected air vents
  • Intumescent seals of inadequate width
  • Poorly supported or improperly fixed fire barriers

Most of these issues share one common characteristic; they are hidden from view; one cannot simply identify them by visual inspection alone; intrusive investigation is needed. Unfortunately, the problems do not stop with external rainscreen systems; internal examinations have revealed numerous cases of:

  • Poor compartmentation
  • Lack of fire protection to structural elements
  • Damage to or poorly installed dry lining systems
  • Poorly sealed services penetrations
  • Poorly installed and sealed doorsets
  • Non-compliant flat entrance doors

All of the above add up to a woeful litany of problems and a potential costly repair bill. The necessary repair works may run into millions of pounds but are not associated with any increase in capital value through increased rental payments.

 

In December 2018, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued Advice Note 14 giving advice on external wall systems that do not contain aluminium composite materials. In essence, the owners of buildings over 18m in height should check that their buildings are safe and that the cladding systems have been installed and maintained properly. Given the frequent lack of proper as-constructed information, the checking procedure will usually involve intrusive investigations in order to see that only materials of limited combustibility have been used in the building. The clearest way to ensure safety is to remove unsafe materials.

 

With the above points in mind it is important for a property owner to conduct a detailed review to identify where (and if) risks lie so that a strategy for mitigation and compliance measures can be designed. In many cases (and particularly when a large number of buildings are involved) it is simply not economically feasible or even logistically possible to tackle everything at once; yet the conflicting demands of life safety inflict a heavy burden on those charged with responsibility.

So what measures are required Post Grenfell and how can Watts help?

 

For more information please contact Guy Pritchard-Davies by calling 020 7280 8000 or email guy.pritchard-davies@watts.co.uk

The Watts Bulletin is the technical companion to the Watts Pocket Handbook, the essential guide to property and construction, as used by professionals since 1983.

Watts Bulletin editor: Trevor Rushton.