The past weeks have shone a bright spotlight on perceived social and racial injustice around the world.
It’s already led to calls that, post Covid-19, we should look again at every aspect of our civic society.
That’s particularly true this month on the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire.
That devastating fire in West London, on 14th June 2017, caused 72 deaths. More than 70 others were injured.
The Grenfell fire was the deadliest since the Piper Alpha disaster. In terms of lives lost, it was the worst since the Second World War.
It was home to some 1,000 families – many of whom were recent immigrants or people on low incomes.
Like many fires, the Grenfell fire was started by the most minor of causes.
It’s likely an electrical fault on a fridge freezer on the fourth floor was the source of ignition. However, fire spread rapidly through the 24-storey building.
The irony is that Grenfell Tower had not long been refurbished. The most significant part of those renovation works was the installation of external cladding.
This cladding consisted of aluminium sheets bonded to a central plastic (polyethylene) core. This material is highly combustible.
In the fire’s aftermath, the government launched a £1 billion fund to replace dangerous cladding from buildings across the UK.
Marking another anniversary, the initial deadline for those works to be completed was this month. Covid-19 has, of course, delayed refurbishments.
It’s likely that the Grenfell inquiry will lead to more stringent fire regulations for multi-storey residential blocks.
We are, for example, working on a social housing project in Bristol, to create a safer and protected fire escape route.
Grenfell’s cladding has come under scrutiny for the speed at which the fire spread externally. But any major fire involves other complexities.
Most importantly, when a fire breaks out, it should not be allowed to spread, externally or internally.
The key requirement for building safety, and theoretically enshrined in fire regulations, is containment.
Limiting the spread of a fire limits damage to the building and, of course, provides life-saving protection.
That’s what our systems are designed to do: to keep fire locked up in a discrete area, and give people time to evacuate.
Ultimately, it’s all about peace of mind. That ensures that all of us can live in places that comply with stringent building and fire standards.
It’s why these past weeks have been an uncomfortable reminder that, maybe, economic cost – rather than absolute safety – has dictated the use of materials on refurbishment projects.
While that is for the Grenfell inquiry to determine, what is clear is that social justice and fire regulations are not that different.