Expert: Grenfell fire engineers had a ‘duty’ to disabled residents’ safety

A fire safety expert said engineers had a “duty” to consider how disabled residents would have evacuated Grenfell Tower, an inquiry heard on Thursday.

Dr Barbara Lane’s comments came in response to questions about a 2012 report from fire safety consultants Exova. The report, done before Grenfell’s refurbishment, was said to lack detail on how people with mobility issues could escape the building in an emergency.

In July, the inquiry heard that Dr Clare Barker, Exova’s former principal fire engineer who signed off on the report, told lawyers that she “did not consider” those with mobility issues.

Grenfell
The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 killed 72 people (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

She added: “If they did have mobility issues then maybe Grenfell Tower wasn’t the best place for them to live.”

At least 22 disabled people lived above the 10th floor of the 24-storey west London block at the time of the fire. The blaze, which broke out on 14 June 2017, killed 72 people.

When asked about the report at Thursday’s hearing, Dr Lane said she did not “at all agree” there was “no duty whatsoever to even consider the residential floors” when it came to evacuating those with mobility issues.

Dr Lane went further to say how even though regulation documents may not be specific, she believed there was still a need to consider who lived in the building and what assistance they would need to escape.

She explained: “I am very clear in my own mind, there is no sec in Approved Document B for high rise residential that expressly asks for x y measures. It doesn’t say: ‘In a high rise res, please put in refuges, please put in lifts’. I understand that and I accept that.

“But it makes very clear these are reasonable measures. And there are cases where the fire safety engineer needs to consider the occupancy profile and if these general provisions are relevant.”

Dr Lane was referring to an extract from fire guidance Approved Document B, which says of residential buildings: “Some people, for example those who use wheelchairs, may not be able to use stairways without assistance.

“For them, evacuation involving the use of refuges on escape routes and either assistance down or up stairways or the use of suitable lifts will be necessary.”

Senior Exova consultant Terry Ashton previously told the inquiry there were more safety provisions for disabled people in commercial buildings than in residential ones.

He said: “There are no recommendations in the documentation issued by Government departments or others as to what you do about means of escape for disabled persons in residential buildings.

“You might say, ‘Well, there should be’. But the fact is there are not.”

He added: “Under means of escape for disabled persons, there are no requirements. You are not required to provide facilities for them to escape.”

Dr Lane is one of a number of expert witnesses instructed by the inquiry.

The hearings will continue next week.

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