With Grenfell inquiries continuing to uncover a number of fire safety issues, it’s clear that decision makers must learn from critical mistakes in a bid for better fire safety standards. Karen Trigg of Allegion UK highlights the key lessons that must be taken from Grenfell to help ensure a disaster of this magnitude never happens again. On the 14th June 2017, UK witnessed a tragedy.
A myriad of critical issues, whether the result of mistakes, oversights or neglect, led to the largest fire disaster in modern memory - Grenfell Tower. Since then, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has taken steps to uncover what went wrong that morning. But equally important is identifying and learning from the fire safety issues that were in play that day, so as to help ensure an incident like this never happens again.
With that in mind, decision makers, construction companies, installers and manufacturers are amongst those that, in reviewing the reports, can make clear, steadfast plans to help improve fire safety for everyone. For that, a change in education towards fire safety - and the various solutions that make it possible - must be at the forefront of one’s activity. Because in reality, one is not just talking about ancillary products here, but lifesaving solutions.
In November 2020, it emerged that Grenfell Tower suppliers were aware their cladding was dangerous
In November 2020, it emerged that Grenfell Tower suppliers were aware their cladding was dangerous, with an inquiry citing, “These companies knew their materials would burn with lethal speed”. Despite the inquiries still bringing issues to light years later, it’s important to move forward on the critical topics that have already been identified.
safety hardware manufacturers
Aside from cladding, from the viewpoint of fire safety hardware manufacturers, two other key issues stood out from the reports; the failure of compartmentation and flat entrance doors failing to close. Combined, these themes proved fatal. Compartmentation in particular is crucial to containing the spread of fire from one area (in this case, apartments) to another, giving building occupants a safe space and protection from the fire.
Commonly, over a building’s lifespan, compartmentation can become compromised with a number of different retro-fitted products. With this, installers (who may not be fully aware of the importance of fire protection) can potentially leave holes where there were none before, thus giving fire and smoke a place to breach the defenses the building once had. On this occasion, learning from the fire doors - which also play a critical part in compartmentalization - is key.
ineffective fire doors
As stated in Phase I of the Grenfell Inquiry, “The performance of fire doors in the tower, in particular, whether they complied with relevant regulations, their maintenance and the reasons why some of the self-closing devices do not appear to have worked.” In the same section of Phase I, it was made clear that ineffective fire doors allowed smoke and toxic gases to spread throughout the building at a quicker rate than they should have.
The market has developed to offer solutions designed to meet the many needs of a building and their users
The absence of effective self-closing devices in part led to the failure of compartmentation and was therefore a reason why the doors failed to perform their essential function. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that fire doors (when operating with fully functional hardware) play an essential role in preventing or inhibiting the spread of smoke and toxic gases and are a key factor in preserving effective compartmentation in buildings.
delayed closing mechanisms
With this information, questions must be asked as to why there was an absence of effective self-closing devices? There could be many reasons as to why there was a lack of self-closing devices, for example, the doors being too difficult to open, or perhaps closing too quickly and were thus removed. Yet the removal of those devices is never the true answer and instead it puts residents at risk.
Today, the market has developed to offer solutions designed to meet the many needs of a building and their users, including those with delayed closing mechanisms that can ease access and egress. Yet it’s key to remember that fire doors and their accompanying hardware are there to save lives and property in the event of a fire and can only do so if the correct solutions are present and correctly installed.
fire safety education
The lessons taken from Grenfell must further prompt an area which is still not as good as it needs to be - fire safety education. It’s fundamental to ensure facility managers, installers and residents all understand the importance of fire safety solutions - from why they’re there to how they operate. The installation process is paramount, too. There are common issues with installation that simply must be ironed out.
Aside from this, stricter guidelines need to be implemented as a way of preventing fire incidents such as Grenfell
Commonly, the speed to which installers are required to work isn’t leaving enough time for door closers to be fully adjusted and therefore suit the environment in which it’s being fitted. To combat this, suppliers must do what is necessary to support installation - from supplying self-adhesive templates to improve efficiency, to offering spring adjustable door closers which are perfect for time-impaired installers.
preventing fire incidents
Aside from this, stricter guidelines need to be implemented as a way of preventing fire incidents such as Grenfell. Fire safety solutions such as door hardware are accompanied with certifications but should stricter guidelines be in place for those installing them? Furthermore, when it comes to testing, should higher risk buildings not be treated in the same vein as the everyday vehicles where regular servicing and MOTs are required to ensure they continue to perform?
These, amongst others, are the questions that must continue being asked. Finally, a push for improved competence across the board is key. From the product design stage right through to constructing, inspecting, assessing and managing and maintaining all public buildings, including higher risk residential buildings as Grenfell once was.
Only when key mistakes are learnt from, and competent bodies placed in the overseeing of refurbishments or new builds of high-risk residential buildings, can everyone truly feel that they are one step closer to complete fire safety