Something is broken

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell wonders if the Grenfell Tower fire exposes wider problems in the construction industry.

Shock, disbelief and sadness. We all felt these emotions when we woke up to news that a fire had ripped through the Grenfell tower block in west London destroying countless lives in the process.

However, these emotions quickly gave way to anger as we realised that this was a wholly avoidable fire. In the wake of the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, especially, serious lessons should have been learned regarding building material specification, building regulations, and building control.

I saw those horrific images last week and came to the conclusion that there is no point in building regulations.

Presently, the cause of the fire is unknown. However, we all saw the fire take hold with apparent ease, with the cladding in particular receiving a lot of media coverage – the company that supplied the panels confirmed to the Guardian that a non-firesafe material was used instead of one that was fire resistant.

How did a contractor save itself a couple of pounds per metre by reducing the spec on the panels from a fire safe insulation to one that was demonstrably flammable?

Who was responsible for that decision? If a specifier wanted to replace a cladding panel with one made from non-flammable materials, who decided that it was acceptable to change it?

If a main contractor takes on a project, and sub-contracts out elements to specialist teams, which then source their own materials, who oversees the designed integrity of the build?

The issue of broken specifications is a curse for many suppliers that see their products specified at the design stage, only to see them replaced further down the chain. Typically, the loss is only financial, but when we see families going up in smoke, isn’t it about time that we admit that something in construction is broken?