The Grenfell fire, which ripped through the West London tower block on June 14, 2017, claimed 72 lives and left hundreds more affected. Seven years on, we explore the changes in fire safety that have come about as a result of the tragedy.

The Grenfell disaster of 2017 saw 129 residential flats of a 24-storey building destroyed, and exposed severe deficiencies in building safety and regulatory frameworks. The tragedy prompted a comprehensive overhaul aimed at preventing such a catastrophe from ever happening again.

Among the key developments and changes to fire safety within England that followed the Grenfell tragedy, is the banning of combustible materials in high-rise buildings, updates to legislative guidance on Approved Document B (a regulation that provides guidance on fire safety measures for building design and construction), a government consultation on second staircases in buildings over 30 metres high, and the introduction of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR).

Wales and Scotland have also implemented significant fire safety updates to address the deficiencies exposed by the tragedy, banning the use of combustible cladding materials on high-rise residential buildings, similarly to England, and establishing a remediation fund to assist in the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on existing high-rise buildings.

To commemorate the seventh anniversary, Grenfell Tower will be illuminated in green from 8pm to 6am on 13-14 June, and from 8pm to midnight on Friday 14 June.

Revelations that emerged from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry have been damning, with combustible cladding and failed compartmentation only the beginning of the fire safety deficiencies identified. Failures were discovered across the board, from developers and contractors, to property management companies, to local councils.

According to the UK government, of the 15 recommendations that resulted from phase one of the report, 11 have been completed, with work ongoing with the remaining four.

WATCH: Grenfell survivor Edward Daffarn urges whoever wins the General Election to guarantee its recommendations are fully implemented.

The publishing of the second and final report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has been delayed multiple times, reportedly due to the complexity and volume of the ‘Rule 13’ process — which involves notifying individuals who may be subject to criticism and considering their responses. It’s been confirmed that the final report will now be published on 4 September, 2024.

Deputy Managing Director of the Fire Protection Association, Howard Passey, has said that the pace of change has been impacted by the complexities that surround the industry and that bringing in new legislation “presents challenges to all involved in the construction sector, not just those involved in high-rise residential buildings.” He added that, “whilst change is of course essential, the pace and complexity need to be better balanced.”

The Metropolitan Police’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy also explained that the investigation had become increasingly complex, with a web of 19 organisations and companies, as well as 58 individuals, involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. He said that while he accepted it was “a long time” to wait for justice, rushing the investigation and making mistakes would be “a worse case scenario”.

Here, we take a closer look at some of the key changes in fire safety that have come about since the Grenfell tragedy of 2017.

1. Stricter building regulations and standards

The tightening of building regulations has been one of the most significant outcomes of Grenfell. The UK government introduced rules that ban the use of combustible materials in the external walls of new high-rise residential buildings, hospitals, registered care homes, and student accommodations over 18 metres in height. These changes aim to ensure that cladding and insulation materials used in construction meet rigorous safety standards.

2. Improved fire safety guidance and enforcement

Post-Grenfell, there has been a substantial overhaul in fire safety guidance, particularly in the Approved Document B of the Building Regulations, which deals with fire safety matters within and around buildings. This document has been updated to provide clearer guidelines on how to achieve fire safety compliance. Moreover, enforcement of these regulations has been strengthened, with local authorities and fire services given greater powers to inspect buildings and enforce compliance.

3. Fire Safety Act 2021

The introduction of the Fire Safety Act 2021 marked a significant legislative change aimed at improving fire safety in multi-occupancy residential buildings. This act clarifies that the Fire Safety Order applies to the structure, external walls, and common parts of buildings containing two or more sets of domestic premises. It places clear responsibility on building owners and managers to ensure these areas are safe from fire risk, addressing ambiguities that existed prior to the Grenfell tragedy.

4. Building Safety Bill

The Building Safety Bill, introduced in July 2021, establishes a Building Safety Regulator responsible for overseeing the safety and performance of all buildings, ensuring compliance with building regulations, and maintaining a national register of high-risk buildings. It also introduces new responsibilities for duty holders during the design, construction, and occupation of high-rise buildings to manage safety risks.

5. Widespread cladding remediation

Following the Grenfell fire, a significant effort has been made to identify and remediate buildings with unsafe cladding. Government funding has been allocated to remove and replace dangerous cladding materials on high-rise buildings, reducing the risk of fire spread. The Building Safety Fund and other financial mechanisms have supported thousands of projects across the UK, prioritising the safety of residents in affected buildings, with councils throughout England working to identify tall buildings with defective external wall systems or unsafe cladding.

6. Enhanced resident involvement and communication

A critical lesson from Grenfell was the importance of resident voices in ensuring building safety. The new regulatory framework emphasises increased communication between building owners and residents. Residents now have more opportunities to contribute to safety decisions, and there are formal requirements for building owners to keep residents informed about fire safety measures and to ensure their concerns are addressed promptly.

7. Greater focus on fire safety in design and construction

There has been a renewed emphasis on integrating fire safety considerations into the design and construction phases of building projects. The construction industry is increasingly adopting best practices for fire safety, including the use of non-combustible materials, fire-resistant barriers, and advanced fire detection and suppression systems. Training and competency requirements for architects, engineers, and construction professionals have also been enhanced to ensure they are equipped to implement these safety measures effectively.

The Grenfell Tower fire tragedy has been a catalyst for positive change. Stricter regulations, improved guidance, legislative reforms, enhanced resident involvement, and widespread remediation efforts are just some of the measures that have been implemented to prevent such a disaster from occurring again.

As we remember the 72 victims and honour the incredible resilience of the Grenfell community, it’s essential to continue to advocate for ongoing improvements in fire safety.

Further reading:

Fire Safety: Prioritising Prevention and Protection

Our upcoming programme, Fire Safety: Prioritising Prevention and Protection, will explore the importance of community settings in addressing fire safety, regulations and preparing for an emergency, while also educating the public around safety at home.

Anchored by journalist Sharon Thomas, the programme will feature contributions from industry thought leaders the Fire Industry Association (FIA) and the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE).

There are commercial opportunities for leading organisations to be featured in the programme and spearhead their own news item. If your organisation wants to share what you stand for and be part of this important conversation about fire safety, please contact ITN Business’ Programming Directors, Jamie Connolly or Michael Holt.