Grenfell Tower fire 'a watershed moment' for tall building safety rules

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The Grenfell Tower fire will mark a watershed "asbestos moment" for safety rules governing tall buildings, according to an industry leader.

Russ Timpson, secretary of the Tall Building Fire Safety Network, also warned of the "significant legacy" of buildings clad with aluminium composite material like that of Grenfell Tower, which would take years to tackle.

Mr Timpson added the world faced a "terrible situation" of what to do with similarly-clad residential buildings.

He said the issue was "something we're going to have to live with".

Both a public inquiry and a criminal investigation are currently under way into the Grenfell disaster.

The June 14 blaze is thought to have claimed about 80 lives, although police now believe that death toll may end up being revised down.

Mr Timpson was speaking to the Press Association at The Emergency Services Show in Birmingham on Wednesday, where the Grenfell tragedy was at the forefront of many exhibitors' minds.

(PA Graphic)
(PA Graphic)

He said: "We as a group and I with others in the industry have identified the issues, the terrible issues, to do with aluminium composite panels for well over five years.

"We've been trying very hard to raise the profile of the issue.

"Sadly, we have a lot of these buildings with this type of cladding on the outside of the building.

"It's causing a real challenge now to everybody - what we're going to do about those types of building when they've got occupants in them.

"There is a significant legacy issue to do with these types of buildings, not only in the UK but around the world."

(PA)
(PA)

Mr Timpson added: "In my opinion for the fire safety industry worldwide, this is our asbestos moment.

"We've now discovered a horrendous miscalculation and I think we'll be judged on how we respond to this.

"Clearly, there are people who want to get to the bottom of why it happened and that's the role of the public inquiry.

"My concern and the concern of others is that for people currently residing in these buildings around the world, what practical advice are we giving them to try and keep them safe when a fire occurs?"

He said: "It's going to take years to change these cladding systems. This is something we're going to have to live with."

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Mr Timpson said it was a sad fact it had taken fatal disasters like the 1985 Bradford City stadium fire to shake up British safety regulations in the past.

He added: "I think this is going to be a sea change, not only for building regulations and the way that we manage fire safety through enforcement with the fire service, but also in the insurance industry because these buildings have to be insured, so it is a massive headache for the insurance industry."

Mr Timpson said: "It is a UK issue and it's proving a big challenge, but it is also a global issue actually.

"It's not true to say this is unprecedented, these fires, these full high-facade fires have been occurring for years.

"I do think people have become complacent and I think we've rather become misguidedly comforted from the fire statistics that say this problem has been sorted.

"Sadly, tragically, this has been sitting in the background as an issue and it's come back and hurt us very badly as a society."