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Grenfell: One year on, where are we now?

Grenfell: One year on, where are we now?

The anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the 30th anniversary of Piper Alpha sadly fall close together. Against the backdrop of both milestone dates the formal inquiry into Grenfell has been running and tragic evidence heard from survivors, with painful echoes of disasters of the past, including Piper.

Dame Judith Hackitt, tasked with reporting on and making recommendations following Grenfell also drew powerful similarities between the Grenfell and Piper Alpha tragedies in an interim report. Her full report is now available setting out the principles of a new regulatory framework for fire safety with a goal setting at its heart. 

The key issues identified by Dame Hackitt in her report are: ignorance (of regulations and guidance by those expected to follow them); indifference (the primary motivation being to do things quickly and as cheaply as possible); lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities; and inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement. Concerns that have depressing similarities with other disasters.

The new regime and regulatory reform for fire safety has the backing of government. Any changes recommended south of the border are likely to be followed in Scotland. However, real legislative change may be some time in coming. 

Dame Hackitt was very clear in her report that the current sanctions and enforcement regime which underpins building control in not working. She recommends that sanctions must be reinforced to act as a deterrent against non-compliance which means enforcement is likely to amount to a powerful tool for the regulator.

While Grenfell may be the construction industry’s Piper, the outcome may be very different. One stark difference from Piper is the real possibility that we will see prosecutions in relation to Grenfell. With organisations suspected of corporate manslaughter their cultures and ultimately the management teams who made decisions relating to those organisations are now the subject of intense scrutiny. Imprisonment for any individuals targeted is a real possibility.

There are steps organisations can and should be taking now to address issues highlighted by Grenfell and prevent recurrence. Ultimately, people have to create and manage safety through practice at all levels of an organisation starting at the top. The tragedy, like others which have happened before, can be used effectively as a management tool providing an opportunity to reflect on your own business, beyond just fire safety, to ensure positive influences on understanding of relevant duties, communication and a culture of compliance.

More details on the new regulatory regime for fire safety are expected in the autumn. We will continue to keep you updated but if you have any queries in connection with fire safety or health and safety generally please get in touch.

By Lynne Gray

Burness admin