Monday, July 22, 2019

How safe are old buildings? Lessons learned from the London fire tragedy

While this article discusses building safety in the UK, every country should review their current fire & building codes.

Editor of Construction Links Media

building safety

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, a fire burned through Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey apartment block in west London. Starting on the second floor, the flames licked their way to the top of the building, resulting in at least 12 deaths. Hours on from the blaze’s start, pockets of fire continue to burn while 68 people remain in hospital, 18 in critical care.

How the fire began, or why it spread so quickly remains the subject of investigation. High-rise buildings like Grenfell are designed with fire safety in mind, with methods of isolating a blaze built in. Wednesday’s deadly event was highly unusual—but not unique.

In March, Ronnie King, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group warned that the government had not heeded recommendations he made in a report following after a similar fire in 2009.

He was referring to a blaze that spread through Lakanal House in south London, a high-rise building like Grenfell Tower, killing six people. In the report that King helped produce, his group recommended a review of U.K. building regulations and suggested that local government and other landlords retrofit sprinklers in residential tower blocks. As of Wednesday, parliament still hadn’t acted on the Lakanal House report.

In England, less than one in every 200 homes is in a high-rise building. In the capital, however, it’s a different story. A population of over 8 million and counting  in a relatively small space has resulted in eight percent of Londoners living in tower blocks. Seven hundred of these buildings are 11 storeys or higher, with the vast majority—around 500—having been built from the 1950s to the 1970s. As a result, many of these buildings, particularly council-let rent-controlled ones, are in various states of disrepair. Some are also not of the required standard of modern properties.

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