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Lakanal House Statement

The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) wishes to express profound sadness for the tragic loss of life that occurred at Lakanal House on the 3rd July 2009.

The incident and subsequent investigations have highlighted a number of areas for improvement to ensure safety from fire in the future and the FSF is committed to working with partners from across the sector to secure those improvements and find future solutions.

The FSF is concerned that such a fire can happen in the UK today and we await with interest the Coroner’s pronouncements. The Federation intends to announce its findings and recommendations after a period of careful consideration of the evidence presented to the coroner.

The FSF has long expressed major concerns about the apparent disjoint in the processes which aim to ensure fire safety within the built environment and the evidence from Lakanal House tends to reflect these issues. These include general confusion and poor levels of compliance with fire safety legislation; concerns about the competence of those tasked with achieving this; and a lack of interconnection between the rules and processes applying to the provision of fire safety measures and firefighting techniques.

Brian Robinson CBE, QFSM, Chair of the Fire Sector Federation says:

“The fire industry is well aware that fire protection in the built and natural environment is not the province of one group of people; it is a continuous process which encompasses many; from the architect that designs through to the contractor who builds, the fire equipment installers, to the owners and occupiers and the Fire and Rescue Service.

“We believe that there is fragmentation in that process and are responding in several ways to the challenge that this creates.”

Key areas of concern that appear to emerge relate to:

  • • Standards of fire risk assessment;
  • • Appropriate installation of fire protection systems;
  • • The impact of modern methods of construction and complex building design;
  • • Consistency of the legislation, codes and standards, and their enforcement;
  • • Consistency in firefighting and search and rescue techniques.

While the FSF recognises that much needs to be done to further improve levels of fire safety, work has already begun to address some of these concerns.

The industry’s growing concern regarding the competence of those who provide fire risk assessment services led to a broad group of relevant stakeholders coming together as the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council to establish criteria against which the competence of a fire risk assessor can now be judged. ‘A Guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor’ was published on 1st February 2013 and will enable businesses to ensure they appoint people or companies whose competency has been independently accredited.

Fire protection systems range from inbuilt (passive) fire protection to sprinklers and fire alarms. The FSF firmly believes that all have an important role to play in developing an holistic approach to fire safety within buildings.

Concerns about inappropriate installation and maintenance of fire protection systems has led the industry to develop a range of third party certification schemes which aim to address these issues and is encouraging specifiers and main contractors to adopt such standards.

The Lakanal House incident particularly highlights the vital role played by compartmentation in protecting escape routes and slowing the spread of fire and smoke and the essential need to ensure this is adequately installed and maintained.

The apparent lack of general understanding of the basic principles of compartmentation has led one of the Federation’s members, the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, to develop an industry benchmarking training programme that targets the three main occupational groups across the sector, including: new entrants to the specialist contractor workforce; contractors within allied specialist trades; and other groups that need a greater understanding of PFP, such as site supervisors, inspectors of fire systems, and building control officers. The scheme is currently under development led by an Industry Steering Group and is due to pilot in late 2013.

Fire safety legislation, codes and standards are also being considered, particularly bearing in mind the impact of modern methods of construction and design.

The process is too open to individual judgment and interpretation but better consistency in the application of the various rules is being actively encouraged by bringing together FSF members from across the sector. For example, the Technical Guidance Workstream of the Fire Sector Federation is developing a document to clarify the expectations for fire detection and alarm systems in sheltered housing.

The Chief Fire Officers Association, the Fire Brigades Union, the Fire Officers Association, and the Retained Firefighters’ Union are active members of the FSF and as key stakeholders in the fire and rescue service they are working in partnership with the wider fire sector to ensure that firefighting techniques are developed which reflect the modern built environment.

Bringing together a broad spectrum of opinion from the UK fire sector, the Fire Sector Federation will continue to work to address the apparent disjoint in processes and to cut silo mentality in working practices by addressing both the built and natural environment, as well as fire and rescue service issues.

Click to download the Lakanal House Press Statement press release with background information, or view the Lakanal House verdicts

FSF Chair Brian Robinson CBE