POST ONLINE: Insurance panel calls for stricter fire regulations

17th May 2018
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A panel of insurers, brokers and loss adjusters has called for stricter fire regulations, on the eve of the publication of the Hackitt review of building regulations and fire safety.

Dame Judith Hackitt is due to publish her final report on Thursday, almost a year after the Grenfell Tower fire killed 71 people in London.

“It is really important that as a result of the Hackitt review we get the right kind of regulation,” said Steve Berning, underwriting manager at Aviva, at a seminar during the British Insurance Brokers’ Association yearly conference in Manchester.

“The less combustible a building is, then surely the less severe a fire would be,” Berning added. “Basic management principles are really important as well. If you do that, passive and active fire protection will work much better.”

He also called for a “good reporting mechanism and good management procedures in fire risk assessments”, hoping that “over the next year or two, we can start getting ourselves in the right place”.

Jonathan O’Neill, managing director of the Fire Protection Association, pleaded: “We should go back to some basic principles about fire prevention. We should be looking at fire spread and building collapse. We should be looking at the use of non-combustible, third-party certificated building and fire protection products. We should be looking at the appropriate use of qualified designers and installers, with regular maintenance programmes, the prevention of arson and fire ingress and the selection of appropriate detection systems.”

O’Neill warned: “Until building regulations encompass essential principles for public protection, we are likely to see fire losses that will continue to get bigger.”

The number of fires has halved in the last 10 years “but we’ve seen no change in the aggregate fire losses, we’re seeing bigger fires,” he said. “Building regulations have not kept up with construction.”

He said timber frame constructions made it difficult to assess whether a blaze had been contained. He also noted that response times of fire services were getting longer and, if no life is at risk inside, crews are reluctant to enter a building. “Unless we see changes in building regulations and the way fire and rescue services respond to these things, we are going to continue to see larger fire losses in the future,” O’Neill predicted.

Andrew Gibbons, managing director of Mason Owen Financial Services, welcomed the lobbying work done by Biba and the Association of British Insurers to improve the security of buildings. He addressed the cost of non-combustible materials by pointing out: “If we have more resilience, then surely the cost of fires will go down, and ultimately the overall cost of insurance will go down.”

Ross Macpherson, director at QuestGates, stressed: “The Hackitt review has raised some significant concerns in a number of areas around design, construction and management of buildings and has called for greater collaboration among stakeholders to make it more fit for purpose.

“This is perhaps the missing piece of the jigsaw, in my opinion. The causal factors, such as chip pans and smoking materials for example, have significantly reduced in recent years; a greater focus on designer build as well as better crisis management will, I believe, continue the downward trend.”