26th June 2017, the UK Social housing is in turmoil, as tenants of four tower blocks are told to leave their homes with no contingency plan for re-housing. The occupancy of a further estimated sixty tower blocks is questionable and some may have to leave their homes due to the tower blocks being inhabitable due to poor standard of safety.
The main area of concern is regards the cladding found on the external part of the building, which is found to be combustible due to the polyethylene core sandwich layer. After the government instructed all tower block owners to submit sections of their cladding for testing in laboratories, majority of the tests have failed the testing regime.
Cladding caused a fire to spread and engulf a tower block in the last fortnight, which was horrific and one of the most tragic fire incidents in a long time. The occupants had raised their concerns and complained on many occasions of the lack of safety management in the common areas. However, there complaint were ignored until it was too late.
Following this horrific fire at Grenfell Tower on the 14th June, all social housing similar were told by the government to undergo inspections of the external cladding and internal common areas.
Unfortunately, over sixty towers across twenty five regions have now been found to fail the fire tests and inspections. On top of this decision the UK Government on the 25th June 2017 requested the hospitals across the UK covered with similar cladding to be inspected.
On the 23rd June Camden Town Council in London, actually evacuated four tower blocks containing approximately three thousand people in eight hundred occupied flats. The evacuation was done as they failed the cladding and fire safety inspections and the risk was to high for families to occupy the residential tower blocks and that maintenance would start immediately to bring them back to an acceptable standard within two – four weeks.
The first block was evacuated early Friday evening and continued through to early hours of the morning, this was done by people knocking on the flats and telling tenants they had to pack somethings and leave.
Camden Town Council took these steps as they felt there was no alternate due to the risk of fire being very high as advised by the experts. The decision was taken following the tower blocks being inspected by the Local Fire Brigade and fire experts earlier in the day, who found the building to be lacking or in a poor standard with regards Fire Safety. It was felt in an event of a fire that the building could not be evacuated completely and there was a risk of a similar fire occurring that had occurred on the 12th June at Grenfell Tower.
Today, we have families refusing to move out of the Camden Town Council tower blocks. While other families have been housed in temporary accommodation, which consist of hotels, blow up camp beds in their local sport centre, other temporary flats or moved in with their families.
The families that refuse to leave maybe moved through legal proceedings, which is saddening to say the least. Although all the families have been told that the maintenance may take up to four weeks, being realistic this project could take up to eight to twelve weeks.
The worse part here is the UK has already got a housing crises, following the horrific fire in Grenfell Tower the people of that tower block have not been re-housed or really been taken care of to date.
At this moment in time there seems to be no firm direction from the government and they just continue knee jerking and re-active measures following a major incident.
Unfortunately, there were indications prior to this horrific fire. The residents raised concerns to the lack of safety standards and were just ignored.
There was a fire in 2009 in Lakanal House, Camberwell, London. Inquest to the fire incident found the cladding panels were non-fire retardant and the landlord did not undertake any fire safety checks / inspections. Following a ten-week inquest by a corner a report was issued with recommendations towards standards of cladding to be used in the construction or re-development of buildings, fire services visit high-rise blocks to learn their layout and landlords consider fitting them with sprinkler systems.
In addition to the recommendations in the report, it also suggested residents should also get better fire safety information. This report was submitted to government, house of parliament with recommendations but no actions taken.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of speculation on the lack of fire safety legislation. However, this is not the problem with regards these drop in fire standards. It is blatant that there has been a lack of enforcement of the safety legislation and management. If the basic elements of the legislation were undertaken i.e. risk assessments, management plans, inspections, audits, training and communication etc. then the steps taken today may have never had to be taken and the incident may have not occurred as relevant control measures would have been installed to mitigate the risk or likelihood of the horrific fire.
Main contributing factors here is negligence, the saddening part is that there is no individual or organisation to blame. Everyone from the owners, developers, architect, CDM Coordinator, facility management through to Government have played their part. At one time or another they have been negligent and have contributed to these catalogue of failures leading up to these incidents, there has been a cumulative of failures.
Although there has been comments of potential charging individuals or organisations following a complete investigation of the original incident under Corporate Manslaughter Regulations. Being realistic and based on fact, this may not happen, as these failings cannot pinpointed to one individual / organisation, as there is not just one area of failing here, as there are many underlying causes and contributing factors.
What has become evident through the actions taken following the incident to prevent a re-occurrence by other Landlords of Tower Blocks with similar build in the UK. Is that they are all failing to meet the legal requirement regards UK Legislation and Standards. This incident could have occurred in any one of these tower blocks, anywhere at anytime under the same circumstances and would have been just as horrific, as they failed the inspections and testing regime.
Question has to be asked today, is the local governments and owners of these tower blocks ready for future civil action from the residents. As the Landlord’s Legal responsibilities have not been undertaken, what duty of care has been given to the tenants of these tower blocks.
The tenancy agreement is a contract between the tenant and landlord. It sets out certain rights and responsibilities under the contracts. Question, has your landlord contrived section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 – which means that the landlord is responsible for keeping in repair:
- The structure and exterior of your home, for example, the walls, roof, foundations, drains, guttering and external pipes, windows and external doors
- Basins, sinks, baths, toilets and their pipework
- Water and gas pipes, electrical wiring, water yanks, boilers, radiators, gas fires fitted electric fires and fitted heaters.
- For tenancies that began on or after 15th January 1989, these repair and responsibilities extend to the common parts of the building for example. Entrance halls, stairs and lifts.
Landlords have legal responsibilities outside of these tenancy agreement as they have obligations from other areas of Law, which is they have blatantly not complied with by the actions they are taking following the incident.
The next few months will be interesting to see the direction the UK LAW Firms head, especially the “No Win, No Fee” as these tenants have potential claims for negligence or private nuisance direct with their Landlords.
Unfortunately, based on experience there are three areas that are seen as a drain on monies within businesses and organisations throughout the United Kingdom and across the globe, these are:
- Health & Safety
Although they are seen as a drain on the budget and time, when an incident occurs what transpires in the incident investigation. Is that there was a failing concerning one of those three elements, as either corners were cut or they were not enforced or managed. On occasions the three elements may be contributing factors for the Incident.
The saddening part is the attitude that majority of people and organisations have is similar. They see health, safety, security and quality requirements as a burden on their time and just a treat it as a paperwork or tick box exercise. That is until something goes wrong, as proven again.
More upsetting is the way people following an incident and the way their actually change in attitude and they start deflecting responsibilities and finger pointing.
This behaviour can be contributed by the attitude of the UK Government has had regards health, safety and security over the recent years. Through the actions they have taken to remove legislation and cuts in our emergency services and enforcing sector for health and safety (HSE Inspectorate). They have stated openly in the House of Commons that Health & Safety is a burden on businesses financially.
This attitude has unfortunately disseminate across the people and organisations of the UK population and is going to be costly for the government and the UK Tax payer. Let’s hope that these lessons are learned and actions are taken to prevent any re-occurrence in the future, which could be in other areas of industry or sectors.
Fire safety is taken for granted and people’s attitude is, that it will never happen, this needs to change, today ask yourself a few questions:
- When was the last time you tested your fire alarm / equipment at home, have you took the battery out of the alarm because it keeps going off
- Does everybody know how to get out of the building in event of a fire, do your kids know the way out of the house in event of fire, if you are enable to help
- Why do you not take notice of a fire alarm going off and wait for someone else to take action or tell you to move
We can all think back at one of these questions and remember a time that we have sat back and ignored the safety aspect or done something we should have not. Second item was an eye opener that a lot of people do not even think of educating their family members.
Remember, other sectors have had incidents that could have been horrific i.e. food safety over time has had problems and IT Security in NHS. All could have major consequences and occur to failing of management or lack enforcement of legislation.