Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington many Ealing residents, especially those living in high-rise blocks, will understandably have questions about their fire safety.
We take fire safety very seriously and I would like to illustrate some of the safety work we undertake throughout the year, and some additional measures we’ve undertaken following the Grenfell fire.
We are the borough’s biggest landlord, with around 17,000 homes. No council owned blocks are clad in the same or similar materials to those used at Grenfell Tower. Our comprehensive programme of fire safety improvement works is now well into its second year. Nonetheless, immediately following the Grenfell fire we increased the number of safety inspections and visited many of our residents in person to offer reassurance, fire safety advice and information.
We carry out a rigorous programme of fire risk assessments each year in which every council-owned block is inspected. Our fire safety inspectors are fully qualified to do the job; they are both NEBOSH and BAFE certified. NEBOSH (The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) issues globally recognised health, safety and environmental qualifications.
BAFE is the independent registration body for certified fire protection companies. BAFE inspectors meet all relevant standards and have been independently audited to verify their competence.
In Ealing we have one of the most extensive council regeneration programmes in London. None of our new-build or refurbished homes have the same or similar materials to those used at Grenfell. Nonetheless we have been in direct contact with our contractors to ensure the highest standards of fire safety are being adhered to throughout all our regeneration projects.
As the local authority we are equally attentive to the fire safety of buildings that the council does not own. We have therefore written to all Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) in the borough asking them for assurances about their fire safety measures. RSLs are not-for-profit housing providers regulated by government, most of which are housing associations. We have also been in contact with the owners or managing agents of some privately owned blocks.
Checking building regulation certificates is an important part of these additional measures. The law allows for private ‘approved inspectors’ to provide building regulation certificates. In practice this means that only about half of all regulation certificates are provided by the council.
However, by working with the fire brigade and our own building regulators, we are offering additional information, advice and professional expertise to other landlords across the borough where it is needed, irrespective of who provided the original building regulation certificates.
Buildings in which people sleep in overnight naturally present the greatest concerns in issues of fire safety. However other buildings, and especially our schools, obviously warrant stringent fire safety measures too.
There is no cladding on Ealing’s schools of the same or similar type to that was used on Grenfell. Most Ealing schools are brick built. It’s also worth noting that most schools are below six storeys and many below four. All schools are evacuated completely upon the fire alarm sounding – there is no ‘stay put’ fire brigade policy in our schools, as there is in some purpose-built residential blocks.
The exact causes of the fire at Grenfell have not been determined. We will of course review the information from the enquiry as it becomes available before considering any significant changes to our fire safety policy and procedures.
In the meantime we will continue with our comprehensive programmes of safety works and regular inspections, taking any additional precautionary measures as the need for them is identified.
After visiting the Grenfell relief centre I was shocked and saddened by the scale of the tragedy. I know many Ealing Council officers felt equally distressed as they lent their support. However, I was also heartened by a local community that rallied around and worked tirelessly to help those so desperately in need.
This tragedy has brought home the immense importance of fire safety; why it’s everyone’s responsibility and why we should all have a smoke alarm that we test regularly.