The fire at the five-storey Travelodge hotel in Brentford west London on 4 December serves to highlight yet again concerns regarding modern building processes, materials and the overall quality of construction, says ASFP CEO Niall Rowan.
The fire is the latest in a catalogue of large loss fires in recent months involving buildings with a sleeping risk where rapid and ‘unexpected’ fire spread has been a major feature. These include the Holiday Inn hotel in Walsall; the Premier Inn at Cribb’s Causeway, Bristol; the block of flats in Worcester Park, south-west London; the Beechmere retirement complex in Crewe; and The Cube student accommodation in Bolton.
These buildings use a range of Modern Methods of Construction, with many being of timber-framed construction or featuring cladding products. The ASFP is concerned that the use of such materials, matched with poor levels of build quality and little understanding of fire protection principles is putting lives at risk.
While there is little information available to date on these particular buildings, there are a number of documented examples of modern buildings where fire protection systems have been poorly installed and maintained, and even missing from key areas of the buildings. In fact, the quality of construction of many buildings has been found to be poor as evidenced in the Hackitt report and the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Construction of Edinburgh Schools.
The ASFP believes the failings of the buildings are the result of decades of a prevalent culture in which fire safety has not been considered seriously, with cost rather than quality and safety being the key drivers. While banning the use of combustible cladding on buildings may go some way to addressing issues of external fire spread, the ASFP believes that more must be done to improve the overall quality of the built environment, raise understanding of the role and value of each fire safety system and ensure the competency of installers of such systems.
A change in culture is necessary to ensure that fire safety is valued, with all forms of protection recognised as being part of a holistic system that ensures that failures or inadequacies in one system are compensated by others, rather than systems being engineered out to reduce costs.
ASFP CEO Niall Rowan states:
“Building owners and fire services alike must be confident that buildings are constructed and maintained in accordance with the building regulations and that they can rely on them to perform as expected should a fire occur. However, changes in building materials and construction processes have transformed the way in which our building stock behaves in fire; and poor workmanship and light touch enforcement of building regulations has frequently resulted in buildings that offer poor levels of fire protection. Cost rather than quality has become the key driver.
“The only way to ensure the safety of our buildings is to adequately enforce the building regulations and require owners and responsible persons to undertake regular audits of compartmentation and other fire safety systems. Similarly, competency requirements for specifiers, installers, maintainers and responsible persons must be defined and policed.
“Education about the role played by fire safety systems and their intrinsic value is also vital. Only then will the importance of quality and competency, rather than cost be truly recognised and the safety of our built environment assured.”