Safety in construction – fired with enthusiasm?

At a recent meeting with Charlie Hendry, Chief Fire Officer for Kent and Medway, it became apparent that our regeneration agenda and that of Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue service shared many common themes. I suggested that he might attend the Regeneration Policy Overview and Scrutiny Committee to present on the current work of the Fire Authority, and he came along to yesterday’s meeting.

And what a sobering presentation. He talked about current legislation; about the regime of self-certification by businesses; and the fact that seven out of ten businesses who experience a major fire never trade again.

And he spoke about the trend towards timber-framed construction, showing a series of photos of a fire in a student accommodation block being built in London. At three minutes most of the building was ablaze. At nineteen minutes the whole structure had disintegrated into a pile of smoking ash and charcoal.

Of course, there are safe timber framed structures – builders have used this method since the Middle Ages. But it made me concerned that, in these days of increasing cost reduction and the need for ever higher profits, planning authorities need to be mindful of the balance between safety, cost and speed.

It seems to me that local government should be marshalling its political influence across all parties to ensure -particularly as the economy turns a corner and we rush to meet targets for housebuilding – that safety in construction, whether in materials, in process or in new technologies like integral sprinkler systems, is at the top of our list of planning conditions.

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