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Opinion: Something must be done

More education on fire safety and an end to value engineering are essential

When we held our Round Table early last month on the subject of Fire Safety and how it relates to the building services sector, we could of course have no way of knowing of the tragic events that were to follow at Grenfell Tower in London just days later.

But the reason for holding the discussion in the first place was a general concern that within the construction industry, the understanding of passive fire protection, the integrity of which has to be preserved throughout the construction process, was not what it should be - and that this was leading to a failure of best practice in a number of cases.

The debate was originally intended to centre on how building services is crucial to fire protection, because our guys are the ones who make the penetrations into the fire-safe walls, floors and ceilings, and they need to make them safe again. But it soon grew into a wider discussion of how various sectors of the construction often don’t really understand their responsibilities to maintain their structures’ integrity against fire, and even when they do, the trend towards ‘packaging’ of contracts prevents the sectors properly talking to each other, let alone collaborating on safety.

There has been much talk in the industry that it would take a major incident to bring these sort of issues into the spotlight – which is all too often the way in construction - and sadly that came to pass in tragic fashion.

The public inquiry into Grenfell Tower will doubtless uncover a complex interweaving of factors that may or may not have played a part in the tragedy. Examination of the owner’s responsibilities; the various construction contractors and subcontractors’ role in the design, management and signoff process; the materials used; the inspection and certification regime; and the fire safety plan will all be taken into consideration.

And whatever the conclusions of the inquiry, Grenfell Tower’s legacy must surely be an end to the creeping tide of value engineering in construction. Safety must not be subject to a price test.

The HVAC industry must learn from Grenfell Tower too, that fire safety is a subject that needs to be thoroughly understood at all levels and communicated throughout the supply chain. We owe it to all those who lost their lives to learn from this.

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