Burning issue

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell wonders if it’s safe to consider the issue of red tape.

In January 2012, the then prime minister David Cameron said he was “waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses”.

He also said: “We need to realise, collectively, that we cannot eliminate risk and that some accidents are inevitable. We need to take responsibility for our actions and rely on common sense rather than procedure.”

He added: “This coalition has a clear new year’s resolution: to kill off the health and safety culture for good.”

Five and a half years after those remarks were made, we are still not sure how many people died in the Grenfell Tower blaze over two weeks ago, 700 organisations and individuals have signed an open letter to UK prime minister Theresa May challenging health and safety deregulation, and the union Unite has revealed that there has been a sharp drop in construction inspections.

It seems as though those who follow a ‘common sense’ approach to life – and who feel ‘elf and safety gone mad’ is tying people up in red tape – have conveniently forgotten that legislation has brought about numerous changes to our way of life that has reduced unnecessary deaths. Off the top of my head I can think of unleaded petrol, ban on smoking in workplaces (including pubs), seatbelts, ban on drink driving, rules governing working at height and many more.

The fire in Grenfell Tower has shown that the problem is not the rules themselves, but the way they are enforced. Also, where does common sense come into play where you have countless failures including the building’s design and residents being told to stay in their apartments?

Spokesperson for the BWF’s Fire Door Safety Week campaign Hannah Mansell recently said: “We have a right to be very angry at the news about Grenfell Tower. I regularly sit in meetings with fire safety professionals, and their fury and frustration at the inaction of local councils and social landlords is palpable. 

“We have been warning about the risks of a fire like this for years. ‘What we need to get people to take notice is a huge fire in a tower block’ they say. Well, here it is.

“There is an endemic fire safety problem in this type of housing stock. I have walked around tower blocks documenting and filming the fire safety breaches. I’ve seen flats without fire doors, no emergency lighting or signage on fire doors and escape routes, broken fire rated glass, wedged-open fire doors, poor fire stopping around service hatches that breach compartmentation, no smoke seals in fire doors, rubbish and combustible material left in the common areas, and no information displayed on the specific fire plan of the building. 

“But that information appears to fall on deaf ears. Action must be taken now to address these issues.”