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Grenfell: Two years on

Last week Inside Housing reported, in the context of the two year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy that, social housing organisations are failing to learn from previous tragedies such as Lakanal, to the extent that significant fire safety failings are still being found. The recent fire in Barking reiterates this. So the fundamental question is why is this happening?

It is not about time. Lakanal happened ten years ago. It is also easy to blame the building regulation system and the failure of government to respond promptly to this at a policy level. But many of the issues relating to the fire in Barking are more fundamental than those relating to a potential change to the building regulations.

From our experience of working with social landlords of all types, across the UK, there are five common pitfalls that organisations fall into.

Issue 1 – Policy

If ever there was a word that is certain to turn board members or senior managers off of a subject, this is it. However, policy is a vital tool to enable the organisation to set out its approach in how it is going to manage both the known risks, and take on board new information and learning. For instance from external reviews of events like Lakanal, in a way that challenges and develops the sophistication of an organisations approach. A well developed policy will fundamentally drive compliance activity.

Issue 2 – Learning culture

Post-Lakanal and indeed immediately post-Grenfell, many social housing organisations will have looked at the events and thought ‘this doesn’t apply to us’, without thinking about the learnings that can be gained from such events, and then challenging their existing approaches to managing risk. Fundamental to this is having a culture where ‘post-action debriefing’ is the ‘norm’, and the senior team/governing body are well developed enough to be comfortable with challenge and conflict.

Issue 3 – Leadership

The behaviour of senior leaders in the decisions that they make and the actions that they take is what matters most here. Are leaders dedicating significant chunks of their time to ensure that fire safety risks are being properly managed? Are they taking direct responsibility? Or are they acting in a culture where often task are ‘delegated’? Is performance properly measured and scrutinised, such that staff can see that it really does matter? When decisions about budgets arise – is fire safety being prioritised in a time focused manner or is it competing with other objectives?

Issue 4 – Asset data

If you do not understand the nature and scope of the fire safety challenges that you have, then the job is massively more difficult. The key to preventing this is keeping a level of stock data and intelligence that goes beyond that, which typically fire risk assessments or stock condition surveys would provide. Detailed, intrusive compartmentation surveys are now becoming standard practice and need to be seen as such. This however, brings its own challenges associated with how such a level of detail is recorded, managed and updated.

Issue 5 – One organisation

Our experience is that too often fire safety is the issue for a single department, or group of staff perhaps working in a ‘compliance team’. In practice, some of the biggest issues that social landlords are having relate to routine maintenance and the development of new homes. Although, to be effective, organisations need a joined-up approach that addresses fire safety at all stages of the asset life cycle. From design, right through to construction and maintenance stages.

For more information on any of the above or to understand how our compliance services can help you, please contact Lee Woods, our operations director.