I, my fellow Londoners and the rest of the country woke up to the horrific news of the Grenfell Tower Fire last Wednesday morning. The stories and images emerging are absolutely harrowing.
As it stands 79 people have been confirmed dead however it is expected that this number will rise in the coming days, when greater access to the building is possible.
At this early stage definitive answers are a long way off. Initial reports suggest a number of things could have played a part in this catastrophic event. A public inquiry has been ordered but it is not clear when this will take place and therefore it is not clear when survivors and relatives of those tragically killed will get the answers they deserve.
What do we know so far about the Grenfell Tower Fire?
- Cladding issues
Attention has been drawn to the cladding recently installed on the outside of the building which had undergone renovation last year, with suggestions that the insulation materials sandwiched between the cladding and the building were highly flammable contributing to the rapid spread of the fire up the building. If this is the case it begs the question, was there awareness as to the increased risks and if so what steps should have been taken to ensure measures were put in place to eliminate or reduce these risks?
- Fire alarm failures
Many survivors report no fire alarm having gone off within the building with a number of people reporting only being woken by other residents.
- Lack of sprinkler system
It has been acknowledged that no sprinkler system was in place.
- Only one exit pathway
It has been acknowledged that there was only one stairwell in and out of the building.
- Residents voiced their concerns repeatedly
The Grenfell Action Group Residents Association voiced their concerns in November 2016 that failings in health and safety in the building would lead to such a catastrophic event but this seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
- Parallels with Lakanal House fire in 2009
Parallels have been drawn with the fire that happened in Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009. Southwark Council pleaded guilty to a number of health and safety failings at the time and an inquest in 2013 resulted in the coroner making a number of recommendations which failed to be implemented not least that all high-rise buildings should be retro-fitted with sprinklers.
What lessons should have been learned from Lakanal House and more importantly what lessons should be learned moving forward to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
- Shortcomings of Building Regulations
Currently the National Building Regulations apply to tall buildings and the only stipulation in relation to the materials used on the outside of buildings is that they meet ‘Class O’ regulations which crucially and shockingly do not stipulate that they have to be non-combustible. This needs to be looked at urgently, as there are currently other buildings throughout the UK that may be at risk.
There are a lot of questions which need to be answered as to how this tragedy occurred and a lot more information is, I’ve no doubt, yet to be uncovered. I’m sure there is a lot more to learn in the days, weeks, months and years to come. Where failings are identified those who may be culpable need to be held accountable.
The immediate priority in Grenfell aftermath
The focus at the moment is on ensuring those left destitute and homeless receive support and those injured receive the care they require. Many people are awaiting news on their loved ones and those families who are grieving will need answers. The government needs to address the inadequate regulations as a matter of priority. Any further delay in addressing these leaves people in similar buildings at foreseeable risk. Action needs to happen now, this cannot happen again.