Following the meeting of Cabinet on Wednesday, 06 June, Mr Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, and Mr Damien English, Minister for Housing and Urban Development, today (06 June, 2018) published the report “Fire Safety in Ireland - Report of Fire Safety Task Force”.
The Task Force was convened following the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 14 June 2017 when Minister Murphy, in recognition of fears expressed for fire safety, tasked his Department’s National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management with convening and coordinating a high-level Task Force to lead a re-appraisal of fire safety in Ireland.
In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, Minister Murphy directed that initial attention focus on two areas which appeared connected with the fire – high-rise buildings and multi-storey, multi-unit social housing – and the Task Force was requested to oversee work on both. Initially, work focussed on the factors seen as likely to have contributed to the tragedy and surveys were undertaken across the country to establish if the circumstances which led to the disastrous event in London were present in Ireland.
The report contains conclusions under a number of headings including Fire Fatalities in Ireland; The Systems Approach to Fire Safety; Local Authority Fire Services; Legislative Responsibility for Fire Safety; Fire Safety in Dwellings, including multi-storey, multi-unit social housing; and Fire Safety in Medium and High Rise Buildings.
The report’s conclusions include:
- Following a review of 842 identified medium to high rise buildings, and more detailed fire safety assessments in 226 of these, a number of which are still ongoing, the combination of contributory factors which appear to have existed in Grenfell Tower do not appear to be present in medium to high rise buildings in Ireland. While work is ongoing on the fire safety assessment process and remediation where necessary, this survey and follow-up actions are seen to have reduced the probability of a disastrous fire by identifying and dealing with potential contributory issues.
- The incidence of and response to actual fires gives confidence that current fire safety strategies are appropriate and effective in protecting persons living in medium to high rise buildings.
- The activation of fire detection and alarm systems, the evacuation of premises, the compartmentation/ construction which contains a fire and the efficacy of the fire service response are all part of the current recommended approach to protecting life safety in medium to high rise buildings.
- The assessment by local authorities of the fire safety measures in their existing multi-storey, multi-unit social housing provides considerable reassurance of the standard of fire safety within this profile of social housing stock. Almost 95% of buildings covered by this review were found to have appropriate facilities, and the assessment process resulted in improvement works where necessary, underlining that local authorities are engaged fully on their fire safety responsibilities towards those who rely on social housing.
- By identifying a small number of buildings where upgrade works were required to early warning systems and through engaging with Approved Housing Body and owners of private buildings leased in full by the local authority, the review process undertaken is seen to have had a positive effect and to have made contributions to both enhancing fire safety in multi-storey, multi-unit social housing and also raising fire safety awareness among owners/ landlords with statutory fire safety responsibilities.
Regarding the initial actions undertaken on the direction of Minister Murphy, the Task Force recommends that national oversight should be maintained of the fire safety assessment process and improvement works underway in 226 medium to high rise buildings in the months ahead and any emergent issues should be dealt with and an oversight report provided to the Minister at the end of the process.
In this case of multi-storey, multi-unit residential buildings, the Task Force recommends that building management companies and/or other “persons having control” of such buildings review their fire safety facilities and evacuation arrangements and ensure that these are checked and maintained routinely. It also recommends that fire services offer training to Directors of Apartment Management Companies on key life safety issues.
As well as overseeing work on the initial actions, the Task Force undertook also a broader review of existing fire safety arrangements in Ireland and makes a number of recommendations for enhancing the current fire safety system. The statutory responsibilities of the “person having control” of both public and private sector premises, as set out in section 18 of the Fire Services Acts, emerged as a key area of focus for the Task Force. A number of amendments are proposed to the current regulatory system in order to enhance and ensure fire safety in certain categories of buildings, in particular in certain types of residential/sleeping accommodation identified as a priority area for fire safety efforts.
The legislative amendments proposed by the Task Force, which would be by way of secondary regulation, seek to clarify and make explicit the statutory obligations imposed on the ‘person having control’ as well as introducing a number of new reporting mechanisms through which the fire safety arrangements in place in premises and sleeping accommodation are brought to the attention of the public, including a new requirement for a “Public Notice of Fire Safety” in every building to which section 18(2) of the Fire Services Acts applies. To ensure that all “persons having control” of premises fulfil their statutory obligations, a revised enforcement approach is recommended to include targeted action by fire authorities to identify and pursue those who seem to disregard their fire safety responsibilities.
Finally, the Task Force recommends better targeting and use of resources through national fire safety initiatives by local fire authorities in their “engineer, educate & enforcement” roles in support of the recommended measures, the intention of which is to enhance the safety levels in both dwellings, where practically all fire deaths occur, and other types of buildings where there is potential for large scale loss of life.
In taking this overview of fire safety in Ireland, the Task Force is in effect proposing the development of a programme of educational, operational, management and governance fire safety initiatives for the period ahead, as well as addressing what are considered as the priority areas of concern. Seeking to balance the risks of fire safety with the needs of society and the resources available to manage that risk, the Task Force considers the recommended approach outlined in its report to be a proportionate blend of measures to prevent fires, to protect people in buildings and to have an appropriate fire brigade response in place as the appropriate approach to reduce the probability of a disastrous outcome developing from any fire.
The members of the Task Force developed the report’s conclusions and recommendations as contained in its Report. The Minister has accepted the Task Force’s recommendation and brought the report to Government. Minister Murphy has now mandated the Management Board of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management to carry through the recommendations of the report which are within his direct ambit and to oversee and report on the implementation of other recommendations.
In publishing the report, Minister Murphy said firstly:
‘With the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire approaching I wish to convey my condolences to the families of the many victims and to those that survived this awful tragedy’.
Moving on to the report itself, Minister Murphy said:
‘I want to thank all the members of the Task Force for the careful and diligent way they undertook this task. I welcome the Report and its conclusions’.
‘I hope that people in Ireland take re-assurance in knowing that the surveys undertaken as part of the Task Force’s work indicate that multi-storey, multi-unit social housing is generally well built and maintained safe. Likewise, while assessment and necessary upgrading works are ongoing in a small number of cases, we are all reassured that the conditions which appear to have contributed to Grenfell Tower tragedy do not appear to be present in medium to high rise buildings in Ireland.
The Report does, however, make a number of important recommendations and identifies areas as a key focus for attention in the immediate future, particularly raising consciousness among “persons having control” of premises of their statutory fire safety responsibility under the Fire Services Acts, through targeted campaigns’.
The Minister went on to say
‘While the recommendations of this Report cannot make society completely free from fire and its dangers, it does outline a roadmap for our efforts to reduce the probability of fire disasters over the next decade’.