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03
Dec

Learning from the failings at Grenfell


At the recent Eastern Branch seminar on fire, Martin Bainbridge, a Fire Safety Consultant with MB Fire Risk highlighted the learning opportunities for the healthcare sector from the Grenfell Tower disaster. 

 

So much has been reported and said about the cladding and insulation in this building, but there were many failings that led to the fire. The Phase 1 report published in October started to reveal the full consequences of this tragic event for everyone who was involved – including the emergency services. 

 

 

Post-incident response

Martin stressed the importance of interaction between different agencies, which, he said, was not good at Grenfell. Think about this, plan for it and practice. It can go smoothly.

 

Estates and Facilities teams know the hospital buildings, facilities and their design, and how these have been changed and modernised over the years better than anyone else and are therefore best placed to advise on how the building is going to react. 

 

In a genuine, life-threatening, escalating situation, the line of control may become blurred with senior officers from different agencies, including the Trust itself potentially, giving orders for actions which may be contradictory. Who is in charge can become a significant problem in the post-incident response. To facilitate smooth and efficient inter-agency working, co-opt a control base that is safe, quiet and away from the action. Nominate one officer to be the key point of contact for your agency and they remain in the control base. Nominate a ‘loggist’ to record all actions taken and when, to provide evidence for all decisions made, when they were made and why they were made. After the event those who were caught up in it at the time will not remember these details so clearly and they may prove to be critical in post-event investigations.

 

 

Points to consider

How good is your fire risk assessment?

 

Think about your management/fire evacuation plan. Does it work? Is the escape route accessible? Is it a locked building (eg, mental health facility) and if so, who has the keys? Test your plan.

 

Do your staff know what to do in the event of a fire? Have they been trained?

 

Waste stacks. Do you know where they all are on your site? Are they plastic or metal? If they are plastic they will burn and channel the fire to the floor above, unless they are fitted with a fire collar on the bottom. Chances are every hospital has many plastic waste stacks and other pipes, some of which might not be clearly visible. Estates teams need to know where they are and check they have a fire collar.

 

Unexploded bombs. Not literally, but Acetylene cylinders might as well be. Get rid of them if possible, is Martin’s advice, but if that’s not possible and they may be close to the fire, advise the fire brigade.

 

 

What to do next

“We’ve got to up our game. We’ve got to raise the bar,” Martin said.

 

JESIP, Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme. It is paramount that everyone should get involved with this programme designed for the emergency services and other organisations that might be involved in emergency response, so that staff follow the principles and use the models provided routinely in the early stages of an emergency. Click here for more information about JESIP.

 

NAHFO, National Association of Healthcare Fire Officers, Fire Risk Assessment Register. NAHFO has been discussing a national licenced register for some years and Martin believes if the industry does not take action on this soon of its own accord it will be told to do so. It’s possible that NAHFO may look to move forwards on this working with IHEEM (Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management), with which HEFMA has a Memorandum of Understanding for collaborative working. However, compiling a register will take a significant volume of work, will need at least 200 members, and the fire officers working on this will require support and financial backing to be successful. Worryingly, Martin points out that a recent survey of NAHFO members revealed that the majority of people (85%) carrying out fire risk assessments across the complex healthcare estate are not registered and are possibly not competent. 

 

National Building Safety Regulator. This is a new initiative that has just been announced and will be established under the advice of Dame Judith Hackitt with powers to apply criminal sanctions to building owners that do not comply with the new regime, which will require someone to be responsible for safety of each building.

 

In Martin’s opinion, the Phase 1 Report documents released in October will change things for everyone. The focus so far may have been on the fire service response, but Phase 2 will drill down further into the tragedy and start to affect people in Estates and Facilities roles, who are taking responsibility for design, project management of works, decisions over materials. Think about decisions that you make, make the right decisions and stay safe. 

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