After Grenfell – why fire safety cannot be an afterthought

There is little doubt that after Grenfell, all building contractors will be more mindful about fire safety when constructing high rise buildings.

To most of us in the trade, there was a sense of abject horror that fire safety was disregarded so openly at Grenfell, yet there was little surprise at the use of unsafe materials and poor fitting that were widespread before it.  If we are honest, when walking into a high rise premises or commercial building, most of us in the fire safety trade see cause for concern.  Grenfell was not a one-off and other tower block homeowners are now facing huge bills to replace the flawed cladding alone.  However, the catalogue of failures was long and wide, and included inadequate fire doors.

It is wrongly perceived that any builder can build a tower block and that any joiner can fit a fire door, and any contractor can undertake fire stopping work.  Partly due to scarce construction talent and partly due to cost cutting, pre Grenfell, companies would frequently employ general labourers and contractors who lacked specific expertise and had never been properly trained in fire safety protocols.  I can’t count the amount of buildings I’ve walked in to over the years and thought ‘that’s not safe’, with open gaps above fire doors and gaping cable holes in what should be fire stopping walls.  

Harley Curtain Wall, the cladding subcontractor that worked for Rydon during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, did not employ any staff who were qualified in facade engineering.  We all have access to specialist products in some form or another, and often anyone with an account can buy and fit the products – however the specialist expertise in fitting these products effectively and in line with manufacturers instructions is seriously lacking.  It’s traditionally been the same with fire doors.

Grenfell was pretty sobering for me, it highlighted the importance of my work, as it should to anyone in construction.  Nobody wants to be ‘that builder’, or ‘that door fitter’.  I was already confident that the fire doors I’d been fitting for over 20 years would stand up to the test, but wanted the reassurance that my doors would never be among the 3 out of 4 declared not fit for purpose in a 2019 inspection.  I decided to put myself through the Q-Mark certification process so my work could be independently assessed – I’m pleased to say, I passed the certification with flying colours and Dragon Fire Doors is the result – which means that I’m now officially part of the solution.

Thankfully, lessons have been learned, now most Government contractors will specify a Q-Mark certified fire door fitter and a Q-Mark certified fire stopping contractor for their projects.  My sub-contract work takes me all over the country, with these high demand skills.  It’s fair to say that most constructors want a good reputation for safety and want to be seen to do a good, professional job.  

The events of that horrific night were a graphic reminder of the need to get fire safety right – the first time that door will be needed is probably the only time, so there is no margin for error – right products, right fitter, right process, every single job.  For me personally, the horror of that night inspired an even deeper passion for what I do – whenever I fit a fire door I know I am not hanging a door, I’m keeping the people who sit behind it safe.  

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