Why buildings need worriers

WHATEVER facility managers get paid, it isn’t enough. Put it this way, I wouldn’t do it.

I’m talking about FMs with responsibility for residential buildings such as student accommodation, care homes and social housing. I simply wouldn’t sleep at night. I’m a worrier, and I’d be worried about walking up one morning and getting the news that – presumably – every FM and building manager dreads: There’s been a fire in one your buildings and worse, there’s been a fatality.

Slowly but surely, the wheels of the inquiry or investigation will grind on for months, maybe years, and all you’ll be able to think about for all this time is: did I do everything I possibly could to ensure the safety of those people under my care? Did I discharge my responsibilities? Did I comply with the law? Did I comply with the spirit of the law?

These questions would gnaw away and undermine any semblance of quality of life. Even if you ticked every box and had every certificate and test report, you’d still worry. After all, a smart QC or investigator could easily make you look a fool – or worse - in an inquiry. Even your kids could end up hating you.

Post-Grenfell, you can multiply any culpability ten-fold. If you were complacent about fire safety and emergency lighting pre-Grenfell because er, that was the general culture ‘back then’, there is no excuse following a high-profile fire in which 72 residents lost their lives.

So what, then, are we to make of the recent crop of revelations which show just how bad the standard of fire safety and emergency lighting is?

Earlier this month, we learned that OVER A THIRD of England’s social housing towers have inadequate emergency lighting.

That was the results of a comprehensive survey undertaken by Inside Housing magazine earlier this month.

In a survey of 1,584 tower blocks – 40 per cent of the country’s total social stock – a total of 402, or 36 per cent, had missing or broken emergency lighting on the residents’ escape routes.

In Ireland, a government investigation into fire safety in the country’s social housing towers found that 49 had no emergency lighting at all.

And earlier this week, a private landlord, Bijan Keshmiri of Lincoln, became the recipient of a record £400,000 fine over the lack of emergency lighting and other breaches of fire and health and safety legislation.

He is only the latest in a depressing parade of fines and imprisonments for a simply failure to prevent putting our fellow human beings in mortal danger.

Most often the breaches occur in so-called homes of multiple occupation, but often they are hotels, B&Bs and other residences.

Meanwhile in the US this week, Derick Almena, who managed the Ghost Ship dance venue in Oakland, California, pleaded guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, representing the three dozen people who perished in the 2016 fire at the building.

His assistant, Max Harris, is expected to be sentenced to six years with four years supervised release. Needless to say, the lack of emergency lighting at the Ghost Ship was identified as one of the breaches of health and safety.

To be honest, I’m getting bored writing these news reports. And it’s always the same old story: arrogance, penny-pinching and complacency.

No doubt none of the convicted considers themselves evil people, yet the consequences of their actions or inaction could have - or has - resulted in someone losing their life.

Clearly they’re not worriers. Yet we should all be worried, not just those who face the prospect of their names ending up in the newspapers following an incident.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, said the abolitionist Wendell Phillips. It’s also the price of safe buildings. We want worriers.



  • Emergency lighting  and the responsibilities of building owners will be the focus of the conference programme at the Escape Zone at the LuxLive 2018 exhibition taking place at ExCeL London on Wednesday 14 November and Thursday 15 November 2018. Entry is completely free if you pre-register HERE.

Comments 2

Stay on your horse, Alan. Working a few years ago with a great fire protection expert, he stated that in cases where sprinklers failed to contain a fire, they were somehow turned off. The only problem with sprinklers is that they can be inadvertently turned on (as an attendee to the IES Annual Conference hotel discovered some years ago...). Not-working lights are as useless as not-present lights. It is not expensive for a trained fire marshal to determine the general condition of a building's life safety character, and if warranted, to demand that the owner retain a licensed expert to perform a detailed study and report. But it appears to be commonplace that neither regularly occurs. Good to see the Ghost Ship persons in prison, but too bad it took 36 deaths to get the City to pay attention.

Stricter enforcement of regulations might be a good start although how a building can be clad with flammable material is beyond me. Also, there is someone, somewhere, who dreamed up the idea of cladding a building in combustible material. They should be the ones not sleeping. Another issue is the "risk assessment" get out clause. Someone does a risk assessment, says there is no risk, the FM ticks the box and the job is done. (badly mind you, and you keep your fingers crossed). There are plenty of disadvantages to strict regulations but maybe saying that all social housing must have emergency lighting, sprinklers and non-flammmable cladding would be a start. Mind you, that would cost money and protect the most vulnerable in society. I'll dismount from my hobby horse now.

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