On Tuesday 10th April, Andy Shipley, Aspire’s Policy Manager, spoke at the annual Fire Safety and Construction Conference hosted by the British Standards Institution (BSI).

Andy was invited to speak as a result of our work to highlight concerns over the fire safety of disabled residents of high rise blocks of flats, following the Grenfell Tower tragedy last June. In his presentation, Andy stressed the vital importance of recognising the diversity of our society and that this will obviously be reflected in our country’s social housing blocks.  This, of course, will include disabled people, a situation dramatically demonstrated by Grenfell Tower. 

Andy strongly argued that whilst it might be tempting for housing providers to attempt to prevent disabled people from living on higher floors, this is neither a practical solution or acceptable on equality grounds, stressing “we should be ensuring necessary measures are in place for their protection and escape, not reducing their housing options.” 

Andy went on to talk about how the current building regulations already provide guidance regarding design features to protect disabled people and aid their escape. He also drew the conference’s attention to worrying inconsistencies and apparent contridictions in guidance for building owners and managers of residential blocks, regarding the steps they should be taking to ensure the fire safety of their disabled residents.

Andy highlighted his concerns that such inconsistency leaves disabled residents “effectively unprotected and, in fact, at greater risk than their non-disabled neighbours.” These evident gaps in guidance would strongly suggest that it is highly unlikely that landlords of residential blocks are aware of the number of disabled residents they house, their fire safety needs, and the capacity of their buildings to protect them and assist their escape. Andy called on the government to take action now to mandate landlords of residential blocks to establish a clear picture of the fire safety features in their buildings, the number of disabled people in occupation and their fire evacuation needs, and to put measures in place to address these.

Andy also called for urgent action to replace the current guidance with comprehensive statutory guidance covering fire safety for disabled people in residential blocks.  He reminded the conference that BSI possesses the relevant expertise and experience among the membership of its existing standards committees, and government should commission it to commence work to develop the guidance as a matter of urgency. 

Also present at the conference were Dame Judith Hackitt, who is leading the independent review of fire safety and building regulations, and Neil O’Connor, who leads the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower Fire.  Andy called on them to support his recommendations, “to ensure that in planning for future emergencies in tower blocks or any kind of building, disabled people don’t get left behind.”

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