Building inspections ‘regularly failing’ to spot fire safety issues

Building inspections ‘regularly failing’ to spot fire safety issues

A SCOTTISH government report set up after the Grenfell Tower fire has found that builder and inspecting authority inspections fail to identify ‘widespread fire safety defects’ in new buildings.

Herald Scotland reported that the expert panel put together by the Scottish government found that both authorities and builders, when inspecting new buildings, are ‘regularly failing’ to identify what it called ‘widespread fire safety defects’, while developers and contractors ‘cannot be fully relied on to assess’ if a building has been built to a high enough standard. Additionally, a skills shortage in the construction industry ‘often results in employees carrying out poor quality, unsafe and non-compliant work’.

Professor John Cole, who led the panel, stated that design teams ‘frequently’ sign confidentiality clauses ‘preventing them from raising concerns about a building’s quality’, with the report stating that ‘the evidence indicates that inspection processes by builders, client representatives and statutory authorities are regularly failing to identify deficiencies in fire-stopping installations’.

A separate inquiry led by Professor Cole last month ‘heavily criticised’ the construction of the DG One leisure centre in Dumfries where a ‘virtually unprecedented’ range of faults found included ‘extensive’ fire safety failures’. The report also raised concerns over the ‘dramatic’ reduction of qualified staff at councils who ‘ensure developers follow regulations’, with this a situation ‘approaching critical status’.

A separate panel looking at fire safety, led by Dr Paul Stollard, has also recommended tightening cladding rules. More ‘stringent’ fire safety requirements would come in for any high rise above 11m ‘instead of the current 18m’, while hospitals, care homes and venues ‘would also see regulations toughened’, and increasing sprinkler use as well as mandatory inspections were recommended alongside ‘hiking penalties for those who break the rules’.

Professor Cole’s panel insisted that the Scottish construction system was not ‘broken’, but needs both ‘a culture change and stronger enforcement’, and he added he was ‘very encouraged by the proactive response of the Scottish Government in seeking to address a number of weaknesses that have come to the fore in the current compliance with, and enforcement, of building standards’.

He added: ‘There has been a comprehensive review of the current system which has resulted in the development of a number of proposals which, if implemented, should restore any loss of confidence in the safety of our new buildings.’

Communities secretary Aileen Campbell said the Scottish government would ‘consider in detail’ and ‘consult on’ recommendations in the reports, stating: ‘The ministerial working group on building and fire safety took place one year on from the Grenfell Tower fire where 72 people lost their lives, and our thoughts remain with those affected by this tragedy.

‘The Group has coordinated work to identify inappropriate cladding, reassure residents and enlist expert help to review the changes we need to make our building standards and fire advice safer. Its work has shown that we are starting from a point of safety and we will move quickly to consult on their recommendations to create the most robust system possible that delivers even safer buildings. We will continue to work with key partners to improve our systems and standards.’