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Remembering Grenfell & our fire safety audit

Floral+tribute+with+candles+for+the+victims+of+the+Grenfell+Tower+fire+disaster%2C+London.+June+16%2C+2017.+Outside+Notting+Hill+Methodist+Church%2C+in+the+vicinity+of+Grenfell+Tower.
Floral tribute with candles for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, London. June 16, 2017. Outside Notting Hill Methodist Church, in the vicinity of Grenfell Tower.

Floral tribute with candles for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, London. June 16, 2017. Outside Notting Hill Methodist Church, in the vicinity of Grenfell Tower.

Photo by ChiralJon Flickr (CC BY2 2.0)

Photo by ChiralJon Flickr (CC BY2 2.0)

Floral tribute with candles for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, London. June 16, 2017. Outside Notting Hill Methodist Church, in the vicinity of Grenfell Tower.

Jacob Wall, ECU Reporter

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The one year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed at least 80 people and shocked the world is approaching.

The fire broke out on 14 June 2017, in a 24-storey block of public housing flats in West London. Luckily 223 people escaped, but tragically 71 people, including a stillborn baby and two Australians, were reported dead at the time or within a few days and since then the death toll has risen.

Investigations pinned the blame for the blaze on a fault in a fridge freezer in a flat that caused it to catch alight, and the flames rapidly spread across the exterior (and through the interior) of the building due to low-cost cladding on the external walls which was made of Reynolux-coated aluminium sheets over an extremely flammable Reynobond polyethylene core.

Fire investigation expert Dr Roth Phlaktou stated: “The polyethylene in the cladding would have burnt as quickly as petrol.”

This sparked up an urgent review of tower block building safety in England, and many countries including Australia followed suit.

On 8 May 2018 Western Australian Commerce and Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston announced an update on the audit that will examine potentially dangerous wall cladding throughout the state.

WA Building Commissioner Peter Gow first broadened the scope of the audit on 4 July 2017 in direct response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. As a result the audit is now indentifying buildings that are three storeys and over and in “classes 2, 3, 4 and 9 with cladding, constructed or refurbished” that were built or rennovated under a license or permit that was issued after 2000.

The scope document says: “These are generally buildings in which people sleep – such as apartments, hotels and other short-stay accommodation – or which accommodate vulnerable occupants or high occupancy events.

The audit will “determine whether cladding associated with these buildings poses an unacceptable risk of fire spread and apply an appropriate intervention where an unacceptable risk is found to exist.”

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety’s Building and Energy division, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and local governments are leading the audit.

The McGowan Government has taken on the responsibility of assessing the risks that cladding could cause these buildings. So far 453 buildings have been identified as dangerous by the audit, as well as 206 being cleared and 247 in need of a more in-depth assessment.

Johnston said: “The McGowan Government is committed to keeping the property owners, residents and their insurers informed throughout this process, and ensuring the safety of Western Australians.”

Gow is writing to the owners or managers of the buildings that have been assessed to advise them of their cladding assessment outcome and provide advice on what to do next.

Changes in the Building Code of Australia that happened in March of this year, now ensure that in the future all external walls of high-rise buildings will be either non-combustible or to undergo an extreme fire-test to demonstrate their performance.

A US study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and published in the journal Injury Prevention on May 7, found that many US Airbnb venues did not have fire safety protections that are legally required in hotels and motels.

The researchers surveyed 120,691 Airbnb rentals across 16 American cities, between October 2015 and December 2016 and found that while 80% of them had smoke detectors, only 56% had carbon monoxide detectors, 42% had fire extinguishers, and only 36% had first-aid kits.

These numbers are obviously troubling, as the researchers pointed out that there is a clear lack of national safety standards among hospitality services.

“Disturbing safety information and products to hosts is an initial step, but the rates reported here suggest that Airbnb and other similar models should consider requiring safety regulations for hosts”, the researchers stated, adding: “Public information efforts to make guests more aware of the importance of these safety amenities could facilitate demand for them, which might also increase the number of hosts who offer them.”

Problems like this with Airbnb’s in Australia have yet to be identified, however, it is important to take note of this study, when booking through Airbnb. It’s probably a good plan to pack your own first aid kit and to ask about smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.

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Remembering Grenfell & our fire safety audit