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Giving evidence to the inquiry, Professor José Torero said there is no reason why a stay put policy is “beneficial or necessary” and that the UK is “is truly an outlier” in not providing a Plan B should it prove untenable.
Last week he presented a report to the inquiry which concluded it was “essential” that the stay put policy for high-rise buildings is “abandoned” because the risk of fires spreading externally cannot be properly assessed under current methods. Today, he was questioned on his findings.
Professor Torero, a professor of civil engineering at University College London with significant international experience and recognition in the fire safety field, also criticised the primary test method for facades in the UK regulatory system, saying it does not provide “any meaningful measure” for real-world fire performance.
His evidence came a month after the government officially confirmed that it does not plan to implement key recommendations on evacuation from phase one of the inquiry, including that personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) should be created for disabled people and those with limited mobility in high-rise residential blocks.
The Home Office said implementing PEEPs would not be proportionate. Instead, it plans to continue to place its faith in the stay put advice for most buildings.
Professor Torero was asked about international fire safety regulations in comparison with the UK, with a focus on the US, Dubai and Australia.
The inquiry heard that both Dubai and Australia took action in response to the Grenfell Tower fire, while the US already has very “rigid” fire safety regulations in place.
On the argument that a full evacuation could be dangerous, Professor Torero said: “I don’t believe that there is enough information that points in that direction when 90% of the world does it on a regular basis.”
In a submission to the inquiry about the regulatory system in the US, the NFPA said: “[The NFPA 285] test is similar to BS 8414 and is mandated for use predominantly on high-rise buildings where a combustible component may make up part of the building’s exterior wall assembly.
“Having a rigorous test is not enough to control the fire risk. It’s important to ensure that what is specified as well as installed is the same as what is tested.”
When questioned, Professor Torero agreed that the NFPA 285 was not the best way to assess external facade fire performance.
Earlier in the day, the inquiry heard the conclusion of evidence from Professor Luke Bisby, who previously told the inquiry that UK government policy had “perpetuated and encouraged” guidance being “misapplied and exploited in the service of generating profit while avoiding liability”.
He was asked about the process of desktop studies – the method by which test evidence is interpreted to assess the compliance of a system that differed from the one tested.
Professor Bisby said he believed the UK system permitted the desktop studies, because any test evidence required assessment from a competent professional in order to interpret how it would operate in the real world.
But he expressed concern about the competency of some of those who carried out the assessments.
Asked to comment on one such assessment, carried out by consultancy H+H Fire, which justified the use of the cladding product used on Grenfell Tower on a different building, Professor Bisby said it was “particularly upsetting”.
“It highlighted some of the misconceptions that this inquiry has been dealing with,” he said. “I don’t use the word incompetent lightly, but it’s, from my perspective, it’s an utterly incompetent report.”
Professor Bisby raised significant concerns about the government’s new guidance to risk assessors who will examine the safety of building facades: PAS 9980.
His report said the document “neither clearly defines what is meant by competent, nor provides much assistance in terms of how this competence should be assessed, verified, maintained, controlled or monitored across the sector”.
22 November 2023