A third of construction professionals believe the industry still has ‘inadequate’ knowledge and training around fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, according to a study carried out by Iman Farah Mohamed, a Quantity Surveying student at Birmingham City University.
The study looked at industry views on fire safety following the tragic Grenfell incident in June 2017, which saw 72 people lose their lives and more than 70 others injured. It found that most professionals think ‘knowledge surrounding fire safety in the construction industry’ is inadequate, while the majority also believe higher education institutions need to do more to educate construction students on fire safety before they enter the sector.
The research, which surveyed dozens of people working in construction professions and interviewed one expert directly involved with the Grenfell enquiry, also raised concerns around fire evacuation procedures in UK hospitals.
One respondent said: “Current building regulations are compliant but I’m not sure if they’re good enough. Interestingly there are no specific Building Regulations for mass evacuations and having spoken to fire services, they are frightened about hospital fires as the patients are not always mobile, making evacuation difficult.”
The paper, which has been published in the International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation, suggests that specific roles should be created dedicated to fire safety, or that existing staff members are given the issue as a key responsibility.
It also recommends that higher education institutions encompass fire safety training in their courses, to ensure the next generation of construction professionals have the skills needed to prevent future disasters from happening.
The report also found that:
- There has been an increased awareness of fire safety concerns in the profession since the Grenfell fire.
- There are concerns that the UK hospitals may struggle to evacuate immobile patients in the event of a fire.
- Many believe the current fire safety regulations are ‘not fit for purpose’
- 37% of those surveyed believe industry knowledge on fire safety is ‘inadequate’.
- Only 28% of respondents believe university curricula provide sufficient education on fireproofing buildings.
- 50% thought communication between residents and constructors around fire safety should be formalized.
- New roles should be created to prioritise fire safety or this responsibility should be a requirement of existing jobs such as facilities managers.
Respondents were conflicted on whether race and class played a role in allowing the neglect, which led to the tragedy at Grenfell.
Approach to fire safety
Responders to the research highlighted concerns with the sector’s approach to fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire with one saying: “It is not expected that fire could spread externally as there is a mind-set that fire risk is unlikely outside the façade of the building.”
One respondent also challenged higher education institutions to do more and said a focus on driving profits was currently taking precedent over developing the skills needed to keep residents safe: “Educational institutions have drifted from equipping students with detailed knowledge and they now just focus on making money. Standards of education are now severely compromised as there are many students entering the industry without knowledge. This explains the poor selection and compromise on building materials. Gone are the years of durability and safety. It’s all money.”
Iman Farah Mohamed who wrote the paper said: “The research showed that there remains some concern in the construction industry around the knowledge and training provided in relation to fire safety.
“Grenfell was a major incident which brought the issue to the front of people’s minds, but while the awareness in the industry has increased, most professionals want to see more from the sector and higher education providers to prioritise fire safety.
“The recommendations suggest how we can make sure professionals of the future are equipped with the knowledge they need to prevent a tragedy like this in the future, and that regulations and guidelines are updated to add a much needed extra layer of protection.”
The study recommends that:
- Specialist training be made available to workers across the sector
- Visiting lecturers and specialist practitioners, such as fire safety engineers, should form part of higher education construction courses
- New regulations should be introduced to protect against future disasters based on building materials or practices
- Funding should be made available to ensure professionals are equipped with the knowledge they need.