Fire safety: audit of high risk residences essential

Insulating materials of the type blamed for the spread of the Grenfell Tower fire are widely used here

 

The full scale of the Grenfell Tower tragedy has yet to emerge. The number of fatalities will rise over coming days and it will be impossible to identify many victims such was the ferocity of the fire. Widespread shock has turned to anger and outrage as details have emerged of how Londoncurbed fire service budgets and did not enforce planning regulations. The fallout threatens the already fragile premiership of Theresa May.

Although it is wrong to draw definitive conclusions as yet, there is evidence of a lack of oversight in inspecting retro-fitted buildings, including high-rise residential blocks such as Grenfell. Moreover, there are allegations that the exterior of the building was re-clad with plastic material likely to have been a factor in the fire’s rapid spread. Planning documents detailing the refurbishment did not refer to a type of fire barrier that building safety experts say should be used in such circumstances. The potential for external fire spread associated with over-cladding has been recognised for at least 25 years.

Could a similar event happen in Ireland? Insulating materials of the type blamed for the spread of the Grenfell fire are made here and are widely used. It is not known if that use includes the over-cladding of buildings. Currently third-party certification is needed for products such as modern cladding systems where “national standards do not yet exist” to ensure the products comply, nevertheless, with Irish building regulations.

This is hardly reassuring, especially in the context of so many defective buildings erected during the “Celtic Tiger” construction boom. This is the disturbing legacy that was facilitated by what chartered building surveyor Kevin Hollingsworth has described as “an ill-fated system of self certification”. There are particular issues relating to timber-framed developments that have been highlighted but not been adequately addressed. Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy should commission an audit to identify high risk residential buildings and systemically address the fire safety issues that are certain to emerge.

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