Fire safety: Prevention needs to be a priority for EU policymakers

Written by Emma McClarkin on 19 March 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

Emma McClarkin explains why we need further action from the EU on fire safety in buildings.

Emma McClarkin | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


Nine months after the Grenfell tower tragedy and ahead of a procedural hearing held by the Grenfell Inquiry in London, it is essential that we remind ourselves of the grief the residents and the local community in North Kensington must be going through. 

We must take a moment to consider their bravery and strength in the face of this disaster. Our priority must continue to be to help the survivors rebuild their lives, and ensure that this tragedy never occurs again.

To this end, I hope that the independent Grenfell Inquiry, ordered by the British Prime Minister, provides the survivors with the answers they deserve and the UK government with authoritative evidence on how to prevent a repeat of this terrible tragedy.


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Keeping this tragic event in mind, it is also important that the EU considers what sensible steps member states and the European Commission should take to improve fire safety in buildings. In times like these, it is essential not to rush to ill-thought regulatory responses or point the finger of blame wherever we can.

Instead, it is the responsibility of member states to ensure fire safety regulations and standards are implemented by industry and effectively enforced by national authorities. 

I have been campaigning for years in the European Parliament to raise fire safety standards in Europe, including submitting a Written Declaration with cross-party support that called on the Parliament to take further action on improving fire safety in buildings. 

I have also tabled a parliamentary question to the Commission enquiring about the existence of an inter-service working group on fire safety to monitor the consistency of fire safety in EU legislation and raise awareness about the importance of maintaining high standards. However, there is still much that the EU can do to enhance fire safety and, in the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, it is imperative that further action is taken.

In particular, the EU can improve fire safety in three ways. First, through enforcing existing regulations and standards, second, by exchanging best practices between member states and third, by prioritising prevention through improving fire safety standards for high buildings. 

First, it is essential that existing national regulations and standards at member state level are effectively enforced.

"It is  important that the EU considers what sensible steps member states and the European Commission should take to improve fire safety in buildings. In times like these, it is essential not to rush to ill-thought regulatory responses or point the finger of blame wherever we can"

Due to differences between the positions of member states on the use of flame-retardants, the Commission has noted the difficulties associated with introducing legislation for fire safety.

Instead, the European Committee on Standardisation (CEN) holds the mandate to develop fire resistance standards. CEN is currently drafting new standards, including fire resistance tests for service installations and the reaction to fire tests for building products. 

In tandem with this important work however, member states must also make the effort to ensure that their existing standards and rules are enforced fully. This includes in the UK.

Second, member states’ national authorities must exchange best practices on fire safety to forge collective solutions to this complex problem.

The Commission has established a Fire Information Exchange Platform (FIEP), intended to facilitate the communication and exchange of information among national authorities and stakeholders. I welcome this positive step towards facilitating an open and cooperative dialogue. 

Through the sharing of information and best practices, national authorities can take a more holistic approach towards fire safety that is cognisant of the advantages and disadvantages of the regulatory choices made by member states across the EU. 

Nonetheless, it is important that the EU take this further by actively encouraging national authorities to engage with this platform and share insights both in person and through a digital platform. 

"The Commission has established a Fire Information Exchange Platform (FIEP), intended to facilitate the communication and exchange of information among national authorities and stakeholders. I welcome this positive step towards facilitating an open and cooperative dialogue"

Finally, prevention must be the priority going forward. This can only take effect through the rigorous review of existing rules relating to the design, construction and maintenance of buildings, particularly high-rises.

The Grenfell Inquiry should inform the way forward regarding approaches to reviewing building regulations. 

If the evidence gathered by the inquiry demonstrates the need for specific regulatory changes to improve fire safety standards in high buildings, the UK government must be prepared to take action. 

Likewise, individual EU member states are also conducting fi re safety reviews, and these must maintain focus on developing preventative measures.

We owe it to those who lost their lives and those who survived the Grenfell tower tragedy to get fi re safety standards in buildings right.

Although the EU has taken positive steps towards developing fi re safety standards and facilitating information sharing between member states’ authorities, it must go further by actively engaging national authorities to enforce existing regulations and share best practices in person and online. 

Prevention needs to be the priority for policymakers, to ensure that the Grenfell tower tragedy is not repeated and deliver the standards of fire safety our citizens deserve.

About the author

Emma McClarkin (ECR, UK) is a substitute member of Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee

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