How property owners and managers should respond to the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 report
Sir Martin Moore-Bick has published the long-awaited Phase 1 report on the Grenfell Tower fire, identifying significant failings in a host of different areas. Although the media has jumped on his criticism of London Fire Brigade to pin the blame on one organisation, the report makes it clear that there have been failings across the board, including by the Government itself.
However, by taking action now, property owners and managers can get a head start in their efforts to proactively manage reputational, legal and financial risk.
A new scope
The effect of Sir Martin’s recommendations, which the Prime Minister has accepted in parliament, is to greatly expand the scope of the response to the disaster. He’s suggesting taking some of the recommendations for high-rise residential blocks that both Hackitt and the Government have been working on and applying them to all multi-occupied (HMO) and lower-level residential buildings.
With an estimated 500,000 HMOs in England and Wales alone[i], the total number of buildings affected could top three million[ii].
The law is changing
Sir Martin’s recommendations are detailed and extensive. He has suggested a legal requirement for owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings to provide fire and rescue services with: details about the design and materials of external walls; and info on every floor of the building, including fire safety systems and dedicated lifts. Regular inspections/tests of the lifts to be used by firefighters must be reported to local rescue services each month. Also, evacuation plans must be drawn up, reviewed regularly and shared with fire services, and buildings must be equipped with a system allowing rescuers to send an evacuation signal to the whole or selected parts of the property.
Other suggested legal requirements for owners and managers include preparation and regular updating of personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for residents who may not be able to self-evacuate; clear marking of floor numbers; provision of fire safety instructions to residents; and regular checks for fire doors.
Time to act
This is just a small snapshot of the inquiry’s recommendations.
The repercussions of the Grenfell Tower disaster will change the face of fire safety management across the industry. That’s why Ark recommends all building owners and property managers — not just those who hold or manage high rise blocks — to get proactive.
Start now, by engaging a competent person to audit fire doors across all multiple occupied residential blocks and plan to have the self-closing devices checked every three months. Fire-fighter lifts should be inspected each month.
Ensure that emergency procedures are developed and communicated to all residents, to tell them how to evacuate from their building. And provide premises information boxes containing plans of the building and other key information.
Make sure that any buildings enforcing a “stay put” strategy are reviewed to consider a phasing of partial and total evacuation, and start plans to put an evacuation alert system in place, as outlined in the inquiry’s recommendations.
It’s not set in stone that all of the inquiry’s recommendations will enacted into law, despite the Prime Minister’s recent comments. But by acting now, building owners and property managers can grasp the initiative to take a leading role in the industry by promoting best practices in fire safety, whilst positioning themselves ahead of the pack as the new regulatory regime takes shape around them.
[i] Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) England and Wales – Briefing Paper 0708 – Published by the House of Commons Library in September 2019.
[ii] An Overview of the Residential Block Property Management Sector in England and Wales 2019 – Published by The Association of Residential Managing Agents Ltd in June 2019.