The Grenfell tragedy has shocked the public and rocked the construction industry. The ongoing inquiry into the 2017 tower block fire has exposed huge flaws in existing practices across architecture, material specification, and building projects. It is also reinforcing the critical importance of fire protection.
It took Grenfell, and admittedly the many years that have followed, for the industry to fully reappraise the product selection and testing regimes needed to ensure resident safety in buildings. Now, the tide is really starting to turn.
Fire protection training
Research we conducted across the UK, Germany, and France, in the aftermath of the disaster, revealed that knowledge levels surrounding fire and fire protection amongst some of our most trained professionals in architecture was very low. Across the three countries, only 3% of architects were able to correctly define the four basic fire protection terms: active fire protection, passive fire protection, fire resistance, and reaction to fire.
Of the architects surveyed in the UK, 8% were able to define the four terms, in France, it was only 6%, and in Germany none. Hardly any of the architects interviewed, a mere 2%, said they’d had comprehensive fire protection training, most had some training, and less than one in ten (8%) say they’ve never had fire protection training.
It was clear, post-Grenfell, that things needed to change, ensuring fire awareness is a top priority
Our research confirmed that architects and specifiers had limited knowledge of fire protection and a lack of training in the area of designing safe, fire-protected buildings.
It was clear, post-Grenfell, that things needed to change, ensuring fire awareness is a top priority, no matter how much time pressure industry professionals are under. And now they have. I believe that when COVID hit in spring 2020, a window of opportunity opened for fire protection awareness.
Working together seamlessly
Overnight, the majority of us were confined to our homes and adapting to working remotely where possible. For some businesses - such as ours here at Zeroignition - it had very little impact. Zeroignition is a global company and we have always operated remotely, enabling us to hire the best possible experts from around the world all working together seamlessly, remotely, and across 10 time zones.
For other businesses, particularly architects, specifiers, and building consultants within the construction industry, this shift, which remains the same almost a year on, provided a very different way of working. A way that has now been proven to really work.
Benefits of homeworking
Online webinars have covered a variety of different topics including fire safety
The benefits of homeworking are plentiful. One of the major benefits is time, a luxury many of us just didn’t have pre-pandemic. Now there’s no commute to work, to meetings, and to events. As exhibitions and conferences could not take place last year, many moved online, giving industry professionals the chance to engage and learn from the comfort of their own home, often at a time to suit their personal schedule.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic last March, it has been reported that a whopping 49.2% of the British workforce were intent on investing time to actively further their learning. The NBS, (formerly National Building Specification) says it has seen a dramatic increase in webinar attendance. Eager participants include product manufacturers and also architects and specifiers. Online webinars have covered a variety of different topics including fire safety.
Fire protection standards
At Zeroignition we know that education is non-negotiable when ensuring buildings are built safely. Government regulations are being tightened to save lives, and as an industry, those of us in the business of design and construction must also continue to challenge ourselves to know more in order to meet incredibly high fire protection standards.
Increased knowledge, coupled with a systematic approach - where products are seen together as a system, rather than individual components - would turn our methodology on its head for the better. Traceability is also a key component to add to the mix. One of the biggest failings unveiled by the Grenfell inquiry was the lack of traceability of products used for the building refurbishment.
Investing in research and Development
The introduction of a new regulator will help to ensure materials used when constructing buildings are safe
This just wouldn’t happen in other industries such as aviation, or automotive, where every component of the structure is known and recorded. The introduction of a new regulator will help to ensure materials used when constructing buildings are safe, fit for purpose, and 100% traceable.
Companies must be ready to stand up, take responsibility, educate themselves and invest in R&D to enable them to do things properly. The companies we’ve spoken to are willing to be more transparent, and share a product’s journey from testing, through to manufacture, installation, and maintenance, which is so important and really promising to see.
Filling knowledge gaps
From the very beginning, we’ve been challenging the industry to improve. To learn more. To try harder. To think differently. I can attest from our conversations with manufacturers that safety elements including fire safety have risen to the very top of the agenda.
Never before have I seen companies so invested in R&D to enable them to build smarter, better, and safer – and consign appalling events like Grenfell to the history books. The pandemic has given the opportunity to invest time in filling knowledge gaps. So let’s continue to invest time in education and personal development to do better. Because it really matters. Change is imminent and safety is at the forefront.