Grenfell fire: questions on why UK building regulations weaker than other EU countries
14 September 2017
As the Grenfell inquiry opens today, MEPs staged a major debate to see what lessons can be learned from the tragedy. From my discussions over the past week with fire fighters and fire safety groups from around Europe, it's clear that rules need tightening up. Building regulations ie which products should be used where and when are a matter for national rules and there are tough questions about why the UK allows certain combustible products to be used on high rises when they are banned in a number of countries like Germany and Denmark.
But EU rules, which determine how construction products are labelled and tested, must also be looked at again and that is where MEPs will focus our energy. Nowhere is this more important than in the area of smoke toxicity. Current rules limit smoke testing to smoke opacity, not toxicity. But early indications are that a number of Grenfell victims were treated for smoke poisoning linked to materials used in cladding. Experts have long warned of the dangers of smoke toxicity and the European Commission had already commissioned a study before Grenfell. But we need a greater sense of urgency to act now. Similarly, we need changes to how façade materials are tested. Current rules allow different types of testing. The UK only uses lab tests, but real world conditions, that reflect maintenance work to cladding or façades over time, is something else.
It is vital that countries and national fire authorities come together to share information. So it was welcome news yesterday during a debate with MEPs on fire safety that the European Commission announced it will establish a Fire Information Exchange Platform to facilitate the sharing of best practice and expertise from all around Europe. Fire safety is a vital matter. Participation in this platform is something the UK government must commit to, even after Brexit.