Perfect recipe for disaster: complacency and neglect

Perfect recipe for disaster: complacency and neglect

As FIRE went to press Sir Martin Moore-Bick released his Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 Report, condemning London Fire Brigade’s response, whilst he has been roundly condemned by the fire sector for publishing the emergency response before reporting on the catalogue of failures which led to the tragedy in the first place.

As fire safety specialists work tirelessly towards implementing the recommendations of the Hackitt Report, a sobering reminder that tragedy does not necessarily lead to change is issued elsewhere in this edition in our report on the inadequate response to another disaster in London – that of implementing the Marchioness Inquiry findings (see pg 14).

The incident on August 20, 1989, in which the pleasure boat was hit by the 1,475-tonne dredger Bowbelle on the River Thames, claimed the lives of 51 people. The subsequent investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch led to a 1991 report calling for the complete overhaul of marine safety on the Thames. The report from the Inquiry by Lord Justice Clarke in 2001 made a number of river safety recommendations, all of which were accepted by government, few of which have been heeded.

Our contributor Tracie Williams reports: ‘The most basic safety recommendations made after the disaster have still yet to be enforced’. The Port of London Authority has found a staggering number of historic boats – some of which took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk – bobbing about on the Thames as owners have resisted the costly implications of retrofitting the boats.

What are the implications for residential fire safety post-Grenfell?

The author sees a clear parallel with landlords slow to take up the ‘golden thread of information’ recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt to ensure the transparency and compliance of fire safety equipment maintenance in residential buildings. Many authorities and landlords have little oversight of equipment and installation and maintenance processes, she claims, emphasising that ‘landlords need to take back control of fire safety compliance to ensure transparency, oversight and accountability’.

It is a sentiment shared by the wider fire community as the Fire Sector Federation’s campaign for third party certification illustrate a growing concern over the lack of progress (see pg 49). Chairman Michael Harper said the Federation is seeking to ‘place understanding and education at the heart of moving the country forward to become a fire safe place’.

The Federation considers a better foundation in fire safety education is needed throughout the construction sector and the culture and assurance systems now in place have to change if they are to offer public confidence that the products and people involved in protecting them from fire are really right for the job. As our contributor says: ‘Only when landlords have seized control can this transparency be extended to residents and the golden thread will be complete’.

Thirty years on from the Marchioness disaster and after 20 years of fire safety neglect, a concerted and unified drive to overcome the inertia of complacency in industry is required, lest the momentum of initial enthusiasm for the Hackitt Report be lost.

Our contributor reminds us that ‘the Marchioness disaster is a warning from history that complacency, such as that seen since the Grenfell fire, can continue to fester and prevent us from taking steps to ensure that history does not repeat itself’.

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