FBU Recommends Random High-Rise Inspections After Grenfell Tragedy

9 September 2017, 07:09

Grenfell Tower burnt out

High-rise flats across Scotland should be subject to thorough inspections of fire precautions in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the union representing firefighters has said.

The exercise would shed light on the extent of failures in fire safety and allow improvements to be made, according to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Scotland.

The organisation made the call in a written submission to Holyrood's Local Government Committee, which is examining the safety of high-rise tower blocks.

At least 80 people are thought to have died in the Grenfell Tower fire in June, with the combustible cladding on the London block thought to have fuelled the blaze.

The union said the London Fire Brigade's "thorough intrusive inspections" of fire precautions on all clad high-rise residential blocks in the capital had revealed "some serious failures of fire safety".

Its written submission said: "It is almost certainly true that the same problems exist in high-rise residential blocks that are not clad, and ... in buildings that are not high-rise and residential.

"The question is, is the same true for buildings in Scotland?"

It continued: "So far, groups such as the ministerial working group (set up by the Scottish Government) have only considered the very narrow issue of combustible cladding as a risk that has been highlighted by Grenfell Tower.

"But the FBU would like this committee to consider the wider issues that have been illuminated in the aftermath of the tragedy.

"The conclusion that we can draw from London's experience is that fire risk assessments of high-rise domestic buildings could be very poor indeed, but unless we carry out some thorough intrusive inspections of our own, we won't know the scale of the problem and we won't know how to make improvements."

The FBU suggested tasking a team of fire safety enforcement officers to sample high-rise domestic buildings across Scotland at random and carry out inspections of the fire precautions.

Commenting on the committee's inquiry, convener Bob Doris said: "Whilst the public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower is ongoing, in Scotland those who live, work or study in high-rises are understandably seeking reassurances about the safety of those buildings.

"We welcome that reassurances have been forthcoming, however it is important that our committee provides an additional layer of scrutiny to this evidence."

Meanwhile, extra safety measures are being put in place at a hospital after combustible cladding was found on the exterior.

The material was discovered at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) during checks following the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June which claimed around 80 lives.

NHS Lothian said the building is safe, however it is introducing further safety measures while further comprehensive tests are carried out.

These include controlling access to the building facade by introducing temporary fencing and increasing vigilance and security to prevent unauthorised people or vehicles from coming into contact with it.

NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison said: "We take all matters surrounding fire safety very seriously and I would like to reassure patients, the public and our staff that the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh has a sophisticated fire prevention system.

"Our risk assessments and the additional measures we have put in place give us confidence that the hospital remains safe for our patients and staff.

"This confidence is endorsed by Scottish Fire & Rescue."

Since June NHS Lothian has been undertaking a review of all its buildings' external cladding, including risk assessments and necessary testing.

At RIE, which was built under the Private Finance Initiative, this testing and risk assessment has been undertaken jointly by NHS Lothian and Consort Healthcare.

The health board commissioned the University of Edinburgh to conduct tests on three samples of representative cladding from the exterior facade of the RIE.

These tests confirmed that the materials are combustible, although the panels were fully compliant with building standards at the time of its construction.

A second phase of testing of the cladding in line with British Standard 8414 will be carried out, with the time frame estimated at six weeks.

Health Secretary Shona Robison MSP said: "We have received assurances from NHS Lothian and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service that the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh building remains safe.

"As part of wider testing being carried out following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, some combustible material has been detected in the external panelling.

"Patient safety remains our top priority, and I am reassured that the Board is putting in place immediate, precautionary measures while further investigations take place."

Assistant Chief Officer David McGown, director of prevention and protection for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Our fire safety audit - within our defined scope of responsibility - showed a high level of fire safety managerial compliance within Edinburgh Royal Infirmary."

The Ministerial Working Group, set up to review building and fire safety following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, heard about the situation at the RIE at its fifth meeting on Friday.

Communities Secretary Angela Constance and Housing Minister Kevin Stewart received updates from Scottish Government officials and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Ministers welcomed the launch of a consultation on fire and building safety, which will better protect all homes against fire and smoke.

The consultation will look at whether the same standard should be applied across all housing - whether it is new-build, privately or socially rented or owner-occupied.