The Grenfell Tower fire occurred on 14 June 2017 at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington, in west London. It caused an estimated 80 deaths and over 70 injuries.
The tragedy reminds us all, of the disastrous impact of fire spread in older buildings, especially where upgrade works may have taken place without consideration for how they affect existing fire performance standards. Time and time again since the tragedy, ORS has been asked, “Could this happen in Ireland?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes and although the answer is simple, the fixes are not quick.
Our industry is all too aware that a portion of buildings constructed in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years do not meet the relevant Building Regulations, with high profile examples being Priory Hall and Longboat Quay in Dublin. Simply put, these issues have resulted from a regulatory system that was based on self-certification by owners, designers and builders.
The Fire Services Act came into force in Ireland in 1981, following the Stardust nightclub tragedy in which 48 people lost their lives. The Act states that while a "duty of care" in respect to fire safety in buildings rests with the owner/occupier, the fire authorities have various powers of inspection and enforcement for fire prevention and safety in existing buildings.
The Building Control Regulations were first implemented in 1991 and it was then that we saw a new system of self-compliance by owners, designers and builders. This was coupled with limited independent checks by under-staffed local authorities. This process also saw the implementation of fire-safety certificates for the first time and subsequent certificates of compliance, issued by suitably qualified professionals who often only relied on visual inspections.
In March 2014, the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations introduced a new inspection and certification regime. The new legislation requires mandatory design certification, lodgement of plans, builder’s supervision and certification and mandatory inspection by an appointed assigned certifier, with reliance on ancillary certification by key parties involved in the building process.
While the new regime is not without its critics, it certainly represents a vast improvement in consumer protection. With this in mind, the question still remains: how do we address the issue of existing substandard buildings in Ireland, particularly those constructed in the Celtic Tiger years?