The Lakanal House inquest and Local Authority tower blocks

Posted by Conor Logan on 10/04/13 09:31

Lakanal House Fire - C4 News.jpg
Photo: Channel 4 News

The inquest into the Lakanal House tragedy concluded last week and the published verdict and recommendations raise important concerns regarding fire safety in local authority tower blocks, and particularly in aged housing stock.

A statement by the Passive Fire Protection Federation (PFPF) sums up very effectively the heart of the problem: “a lack of understanding of in-built fire protection and a general failure to comply with the principles of fire safety regulations. The incident demonstrates the devastating consequences of failing to install and maintain adequate fire protection within buildings.”

The risk of renovating fire safety out of the building

The fire spread very quickly from the flat where it started to other floors, both above and below. The jury heard that this unusual behaviour was partly caused by renovations made in the building, when fire-stopping sections between flats and corridors were removed and PVC-based panels with minimal fire resistance were used to replace windows.

A lack of understanding of the behaviour of fire and smoke has meant that the renovations resulted in insufficient compartmentation, so that the fire was allowed to spread quickly in all directions, and the windows were replaced with materials which offered insufficient protection.

Calling on the services of a qualified specialist and a holistic approach to fire engineering for renovations in tower blocks would go a long way toward preventing such a tragic event from happening again.

The critical importance of regular professional risk assessments

The jury at the inquest heard that no fire safety checks were carried out at Lakanal House between 2006, when the windows were replaced, and the time of the fire in 2009. This points to what the PFPF describes as a “general lack of respect for fire safety regulations and regulatory guidance.”

A professional Risk Assessment would pick up on the fire safety issues resulting from renovation work in an existing tower block and solutions could be put in place to protect the building’s tenants.

Owners’ obligations

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, the owner or occupier is responsible for keeping the Risk Assessment up to date and maintaining all life safety systems covered by that Risk Assessment in effective working order.

If you would like to read all the details of the inquest, the full verdicts and recommendations are available here.

Related article: Fire safety: protecting local authority tower blocks

Conor LoganConor Logan is a Technical Manager of Colt UK, Smoke and Climate Control Division. Conor designs innovative smoke control and HVAC systems and is also Chairman of the Smoke Control Association.

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Topics: Fire Containment, Regulations, Residential Buildings