I make no apology for starting my comment with another reference to the Grenfell Tower fire. With two years having now passed it seems other ‘news’ has consigned the tragedy to history in the eyes of the wider public and public officials despite the ongoing need to learn from the terrible events of 14 June 2017. The cause and the fire spread were at the top of the UK agenda and there was no question that action was needed to prevent something like Grenfell from ever happening again but, sadly, Grenfell now seems destined to be forgotten by the many until the next attention-grabbing headline from the next stage of the enquiry. This is a tragedy in itself given the continuing missed opportunities to take effective action based on risks that have been clearly identified by the incident.
The ongoing delay in implementing the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of the building regulations, including the removal of similar cladding from other high-rise buildings, remains a real concern for the fire industry and residents of these buildings who understandably live in ongoing fear of another incident. The inaction on the wider fire-safety recommendations that were announced has even led to Dame Judith Hackitt herself stating: ‘I think it is a matter of some regret it has taken this long to get this far.’ As an industry we must be persistent in ensuring we all take every opportunity to regain a momentum for change borne out of Grenfell and incidents that have both preceded and followed on, surely the most powerful lessons come from the bitter experience of failure? How can an incident with the devastating impact and profile of Grenfell be so seemingly quickly forgotten? How can the recommendations of a respected review which drew support at their time of publication take so long to implement?
Unfortunately, the theme of inaction pervades in other areas affecting the fire industry. In the last edition of UK Fire, I used my editorial to highlight technological advances and the opportunities technology presents to making our built environment a safer place. In the time since the last edition, technology and fire have once again become headline news but this time as a result of the downside of faulty technology in the form of faulty white goods that have caused a number of fires in the UK.
I have to commend London Fire Brigade who have long been campaigning for a process to ensure faulty white goods can be effectively recalled in the event of a fault having been identified. The Brigade lobbied Central Government to establish a publicly accessible ‘Total Recalls’ database to assist consumers in identifying whether they might have potentially faulty electrical apparatus in their homes alongside greater publicity to highlight faulty goods along with an associated risk assessment. Other measures being sought include changes in design and construction, improved product markings and greater regulation in the sale of second-hand white goods.
In June 2019 the UK Government announced its intention to serve one manufacturer, Whirlpool, with a recall notice for tumble dryers that were known to be a fire risk. A month after the Government’s announcement it is reported that Whirlpool are to issue a recall notice for what the company itself has stated may be 800,000 affected units.
Why does it take a Government directive to initiate what is clearly a matter of public safety? How can action on such a significant safety issue be known to exist yet be delayed and tied up in bureaucracy for over four years during which time untold damage has been caused?
I mentioned in a previous editorial that I was once told that the problem with the fire sector is that they are seen to ‘scaremonger’ over issues. Perhaps there is good reason for that. Perhaps dealing with the aftermath of tragedy, whether through dealing with the human aspect or the reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure after a fire provides fire professionals with a unique insight into uncomfortable truths.
It seems that no matter how much evidence is amassed, for some individuals, organisations and corporations whose interests are challenged by the discomfort of hearing the impact of errors for which they hold responsibility, they would rather dismiss the information they don’t want to hear by labelling it as ‘scaremongering’ or some other phrase in order to deflect or discredit the painful truth.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. The motor industry seems to have an altogether different approach. To conclude this particular subject on a positive note, Volvo, a manufacturer synonymous with safety, has recently taken an altogether different approach by recalling 70,000 cars in the UK alone over a fault that could potentially cause a fire in extreme cases. Other car manufacturers have taken similar action over recent years; if they can take a proactive approach, why can’t other industries?
From its inception, the aim for UK Fire was to create a magazine that would bridge all aspects of fire engineering and provide information to assist in developing individuals, organisations and wider fire engineering, whatever the reader’s role.
As a newly appointed editor I recognised that with such a range of skills and disciplines to satisfy this would be no easy task, but I believed and still believe there is a need for a mutual understanding and respect for the role of each of the fire engineering disciplines.
We are now at Issue 6 of the magazine and the readership of UK Fire continues to expand. Feedback from readers, contributing authors and advertisers has been positive. This is good news, but we do recognise that there are opportunities to build on our success and, as always, I would welcome ideas and feedback from readers.
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