'A former London Fire Bridge (LFB) safety offcier claims that materials used at Grenfell Towerwould “never have been allowed” under old fire safety and building regulations.
Ex-LFB “City Father” Stephen Lashmar told New Civil Engineer that materials present in the Grenfell Tower disaster – such as the combustible cladding and UPVC window frames – would “never have been allowed” under previous measures scrutinised by the local authority District Surveyor.
He claims that for more than 20 years building regulations and fire safety protocols have been softened by consecutive governments.
Lashmar, who worked at the LFB between 1989 and 2012, alleges that since the mid-1990s governments have wilted to “sustained pressure from industry” and the EU to drop the UK’s previously stringent fire safety protocols.
“From 1979 to 1997, it was a golden time for fire safety,” Lashmar told New Civil Engineer. “There was proper fire safety regulations and proper unity between the fire safety inspectors and the building control.
“Since then various pieces of legislation have been under a sustained attack by developers, architects and material manufacturers in order to make it easier and cheaper to build and reconfigure existing structures.
“Government and statutory bodies have caved in and we now have a situation where safety assessments are being undertaken by anyone who believes that they are able to perform such work.”
However, the “gamechanger” took place in 1984 when Building Regulations were altered and the Building (Approved Inspectors) Regulations became law. But for many years to come the local authority Building Control still performed its role.
Lashmar, said that the change “for the worst” began when the Fire Safety (workplace) Regulations 1997 replaced Section 9(a) of the Fire Precautions Act 1971.
Coupled with regulatory reform in 2005 – which Lashmar claims was pushed through by the EU the fire brigades were told to take a “hands off approach” to fire safety, according to Lashmar.
He explains that what this effectively did was shift the responsibility for a workplace building’s safety “away from the brigade’s fire safety inspectors and on to private fire safety inspection companies and or those who owned the buildings”.
“In my day as an inspector, I knew I was responsible for the safety of the people inside a workplace building and that the building itself had been thoroughly inspected by the District Surveyor who we worked very closely with,” Lashmar said. “Now you have a system whereby a ‘responsible person’ with minimal training may carry out the risk assessment and as long as this has been completed the fire inspector may have to take that assessment as gospel.”
He adds: “It’s like removing the need for mechanics to carry out MOTs and giving someone who has driven a car for a long time the power to approve a car’s safety.
“As you can tell I’m not a fan of the current concept of the Fire Safety Order 2005 which I believe was a retrograde step concerning fire safety.”
However, Wilkinson Construction Consultants managing director Geoff Wilkinson disagrees with Lashmar’s interpretation of the evolution of the Approved Inspector.
While agreeing “with the underlying sentiment” of Lashmar’s statements, Wilkinson suggests that the introduction of Approved Inspectors had been much longer in the making and says that the fire authority were never involved in approving materials.
“While I appreciate the fire officer’s position and agree with the underlying sentiment, it misrepresents the evolution of the Approved Inspector and legislation generally,” Wilkinson told New Civil Engineer. “Approved Inspectors were introduced in the 1984 Building Act and the changes from prescription to functional requirements were in the 1985 Approved Documents.”
He added: “It is also rather disingenuous to suggest that the fire authority were ever directly involved in the approval of cladding materials as this has always been a function of Building Control - both private and public sector.”
Read more: Grenfell materials would ‘never have been allowed’ under old rules