Is it time to end the "cheap and cheerful" approach to fire safety?
The sickening pictures and accounts from the Grenfell Tower tragedy have rightly led to outrage. What went wrong? Were budget cuts part of the cause? ... and so on. So while we find out the facts, we need to address "the elephant in the room".
When I first joined the fire industry in the 1980s, my boss at the time, Peter Frost (now sadly passed away) reminded me early on that anything to do with fire safety is a "grudge purpose". As with insurance and visits to the Dentist, nobody actually likes to pay out for something they don't actually want.
And that has been the case for most of my career. When there is a tragic event, there is a call for change - fire safety and protection is revitalized and, for a while, is valued as much as it should be. But then there is an inevitable decline to the default scenario - fire precautions are a necessary evil!
How many fire risk assessors have been told to keep their price to a minimum to meet the minimum requirements of legislation only? I have also experienced the same rebuff whilst, at the same time, the organization was looking to purchase a complete ergonomic revamp of their offices - chairs, desks etc. For this price they could have easily installed a sprinkler system. But, a complete no-brainer for them, eh - ugly things on the ceiling that "are likely to leak" or a comfortable chair in a neutral colour scheme.
I wrote an article in 2008 about the problems of "cheap and cheerful" fire risk assessments pointing out the dangers of such an approach. More recently, I wrote a similar article about "cheap and cheerful" fire strategies - even more of a potential danger as retrospective fire strategies are being written up by persons who plainly don't understand what a fire strategy should be!
This is a tragedy but also a wake-up call. No more should the fire sector be treated as a commodity with price being the main determinant. Nobody purposefully looks around for the cheapest architect or doctor - so why should they when it comes to fire engineering?