The government became complacent about fire damage prior to the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, reducing the number of people with expertise in the area.
That’s according to executive officer of the Fire Sector Federation Dennis Davis, who shockingly remarked that “anyone could call themselves a fire risk assessor” as early as 2010, which drove discussion around the need for a nationally recognised accreditation scheme.
He added that guidance to fire risk assessors in the years was “beyond a joke” and the government showed a reluctance to add “any form of additional mandatory controls on business”.
Davis was speaking in a Grenfell Tower hearing, which outlined how the government rejected calls for tougher competency standards on fire risk assessors in the wake of the 2009 Lakanal fire in south London, which killed six people after the building’s cladding panels ignited.
He said: “We were really concerned with the regulations getting completely out of date. Really concerned to the point, we were about to launch a really major campaign about updating the building regulations.
“It was beyond a joke.”
The hearing also heard from Sir Ken Knight, the government’s chief fire and rescue advisor between 2007 and 2013.
Sir Ken was commissioned to produce a report into the Lakanal House fire, which he submitted four weeks after the fire.
In the report he recommended for the need to strengthen the requirements for risk assessments, as he said it was clear assessments of risks had been “inadequate” and failed to identify “major failings” in the building.
However the room heard that he was rebuffed by Louise Upton, then head of the fire safety policy team at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who said she was “uncomfortable that any recommendations about legislation be made at such an early stage”.
A colleague of Sir Ken emailed him to say she felt “any review of the legislation would be unwelcome” as it would “question the whole rationale of the self-compliance regime”.
Sir Ken went added that he disagreed with her view, but he felt he had done everything he was asked to do by producing the quick report.
Two months later in September 2009 Upton sent an email regarding a proposal for an accreditation scheme of risk assessors, where she wrote: “Government has neither the expertise nor the resources available to implement and manage such a scheme.”
However she added that ministers were “willing for officials to discuss with interested parties, the concept of a nationally recognised accreditation scheme” to be set up independently by the industry.
The scheme was planned in December 2009 but Upton seemed reluctant to get tough on driving up the standards of fire risk assessors.
Indeed, she added that there were “no plans” to make an accreditation scheme mandatory as “experience suggested much could be achieved with a voluntary approach”.
And in a submission to ministers in July 2010 she concluded that “businesses are unlikely to welcome the burden of further regulation in this area”.