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homeFriday 22nd September 2017

Attitudes to health and safety must change post Grenfell

Katie Coyne29/06/2017 - 10:40

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Grenfell must lead to a radical rethink about health and safety
Grenfell must lead to a radical rethink about health and safety

Scrapping health and safety regulations must be stopped immediately in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.

An open letter signed by more than 70 organisations and individuals from the UK’s safety and health profession - including the CIEH - urged the prime minister to halt deregulation.

Those signing argued that the health and safety community has been drowned out by the commercial imperative and desire to blindly cut red tape.

The letter stated: ‘Good, well-evidenced and proportionate regulations in health and safety, based on full consultation, are developed and adopted because they save lives and protect people’s health and wellbeing.

‘They are not “burdens on business” but provide essential protection for the public from identifiable risks.

It added: ‘it is vital that this disaster marks a turning point for improved fire safety awareness and wider appreciation that good health and safety is an investment, not a cost.’

It urged the prime minister: ‘You have it in your power to remove immediately a further risk to people at work and outside of the workplace – unwise deregulation – which threatens public and worker safety.

‘We, leaders in health and safety in the UK, call on you to scrap the Government’s approach to health and safety deregulation and think again.

‘This could be announced immediately, it does not need to await the results of a public inquiry, and is the least that the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire deserve.’

The letter said there had been a long trend of Government ministers calling for health and safety regulations to be cut as a matter of principle.

It pointed to ‘arbitrary rules’ introduced to axe two (and more recently three) health and safety regulations for any new one adopted.

This, the letter argued, led to a mind-set that even when it was recommended and accepted that mandatory fitting of sprinklers would make homes or schools safer, this was rejected in favour of non-regulatory action. ‘In practice, this approach favours inaction,’ it argued.

While the letter didn’t specifically reference the former Housing Minister Brandon Lewis’s comments – he said that enforcing mandatory sprinkler systems would discourage house building – the inference is clear.

The government even has its own website dedicated to deregulation called cutting red tape and health and safety has been seen as an easy target.

Parts of the mainstream press have actively pursued health-and-safety-gone-mad type stories, which has helped perpetuate the myth that all health and safety measures are bad.

Those signing the letter also urged the government to implement the lessons already learned from the Lakanal House tower block fire, in South London, eight years ago where six people died.

An inquest into the fire found, four years ago, that the fire was preventable. The government pledged to review part B of the Building Regulations 2010 relating to fire safety in the aftermath of Lakanal. 

But this has still not been done and signatures to the letter urged the government to ‘accelerate and confirm the timeframe’ for completion of the review. 

Fire safety checks had not been carried out by the council in the case of Lakanal. Like Grenfell, the outside of Lakanal had been refurbished to include composite panels that burned very quickly and helped spread the fire. 

Similarly, residents were told to remain in the building as emergency services believed that the fire would not spread as quickly as it did and that it could be contained and put out. 

 

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