It is beyond obvious that atrocities such as this shouldn’t happen. We live in an age of building regulations and safety standards, of the testing and certifying of construction materials, of multiple specialist consultancies and subcontractors, of quality assurance and project managers, of health and safety allegedly gone mad, all in the name of eliminating risk. Yet the death toll of Grenfell Tower, if it is ever known, might make it the worst peacetime fire for very many decades, worse than the fires at Bradford City’s ground in 1985 and the Summerland leisure centre on the Isle of Man in 1973, beyond which you have to look back to the 1920s for anything comparable.
There are multiple factors. Part B of the building regulations states that “the external envelope of a building should not provide a medium for fire spread… The use of combustible materials in the cladding system and extensive cavities may present such a risk in tall buildings”. Any insulation product, it also says, “should be of limited combustibility”. Well, it combusted. The type of insulation, prohibited for use in comparable situations in Germany and the US, and similar to products that have caused serious fires in the UAE, China and Britain, is a prime suspect. It may also be that barriers that are supposed to stop the spread of flames up internal cavities were not properly installed.
Sprinklers would have saved lives. Fire stops that should have protected the internal means of escape may have been faulty or missing. The gas supply lines are under suspicion. The Grenfell Action Group had presciently warned of a lack of fire safety instructions. 999 operators fatally stuck to the official advice that people should stay in their homes, which makes sense when the building regulations are doing their job of containing fires within a single flat, but not when the whole building is engulfed. Compartmentalised thinking – the inability of any one agency to see the whole picture – played a role. It’s likely, as often in major disasters, that it was the cumulative and multiplying effect of several factors that made it so terrible.
So, layer upon layer of intrusive regulation and government made this happen.
The solution is more layers of intrusive government and regulation. That’ll work, won’t it?