Scottish investigation into high rise safety

Scottish investigation into high rise safety

THE SCOTTISH Parliament Local Government Committee is looking into ‘the safety of Scotland’s high rise tower blocks’ post Grenfell.

Evening Times reported on the Fire Brigades Union Scotland (FBU), which is ‘warning MSPs investigating high rise safety’ that ‘more expert posts need to be created’. The number of fire safety inspectors in the country was cut from 89 to 68 in the years since 2013/2014, with this quarterfold cut ‘leading to concerns about the ability to enforce standards’.

Bob Doris, convenor of the Local Government Committee, commented: ‘Whilst the public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower is ongoing, in Scotland those who live, work or study in high rises are understandably seeking reassurances about the safety of those buildings. We welcome that reassurances have been forthcoming, however it is important that our Committee provides an additional layer of scrutiny to this evidence.

‘That’s why we’ll be speaking to local authorities, landlords, tenants and the Scottish Government as part of our on-going inquiry into building regulations and fire safety.’

The FBU presented a written submission to the committee, noting that ‘FBU members who are fire safety inspecting officers tell us that today they often do not have time to take the action that they would like to take when they find breaches of the legislation because they know there are more serious breached down the line that will demand their precious time’.

In turn, it pointed out that one way of improving fire risk assessments ‘would be to create more inspecting posts’ within the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, filled by promoting firefighters ‘who have knowledge and experience gained from witnessing real fires’. Regulations in England mean materials of ‘limited combustibility’ can be used, but in Scotland the requirement is ‘non-combustible materials’, so there is no ‘confusion’.

This means in turn that ‘the chances of a similar fire occurring in Scotland’ to Grenfell ‘are indeed minimised’, and the FBU has been calling for Scottish standards ‘to be adopted in England’. In Scotland however ‘there are gaps in the safety procedures between council building inspectors and fire service checks’, and that during construction ‘safety responsibility falls to building control in the local council’.

After a building is occupied it is taken on by the fire service, but ‘there is no exact time when responsibility is transferred because some buildings are partly occupied before construction is complete or occupancy is delayed after completion’. The union warned that faults in design can ‘fall between two stools’, in that they might not be picked up by building control but the fire service ‘assume everything is sound when they do take over’.

On this note, it called for a system where a building ‘cannot be occupied until all authorities, council and fire service have carried out a thorough inspection of the premises to ensure all standards have been met’. Two other concurrent investigations are taking place in Scotland on fire safety in the Highlands and smoke alarms across the country.