Events prove we should carry out fire risk assessments

When buying or renting a property, or looking at replacement double glazed windows, I am sure that carrying out a fire risk assessment, or ensuring one has been carried out by the landlord or local council, is not the first thing you would think of doing?

Sadly, recent tragedies do prove that carrying out a fire risk assessment could indeed save lives. Earlier this month, Ed Davey for BBC News, London wrote an article on the BBC News website that should be a wake up call for us all called “Lives risked by cheap fire option” following a BBC London investigation.

The article expressed concerns that “across London vast numbers of buildings have seen traditional wooden window frames replaced with PVC plastic, including a block in Croydon which burned to the ground in 2007. These replacements had also been made at Lakanal House, in Camberwell, south London, where six people were killed when a fire ripped through the building, last July.”

Picture of the post fire damage at Lakanal House, Camberwell in 2009
Picture of the post fire damage at Lakanal House, Camberwell in 2009
Ed Davey’s article went on to report that “experts have blamed the speed that the fire spread there on a windows as well as a replacement facade for the building made of plastic.”

From reading the article it does appear that the installation may not have been done properly, which was then compounded by a fire risk assessment not being carried out. It goes without saying that as PVC is plastic it will obviously melt in a fire, so it is important to ensure that if you do own a house with these windows, or are considering replacement UPVC windows because they cost less than hardwood or aluminium windows, that they are installed properly. In the article Chris Houston, a fire risk consultant, was quoted as stating that “any fire engineer will tell you PVC burns easier than wood.”

Every window material on the market place has advantages and disadvantages, so it really is important to ensure that the products you have or are going to have in your property are as safe as they possibly can be, given there is no 100% safe solution, as obviously wood also burns, and aluminium will also eventually melt in intense heat, although it does not give off the sort of acrid smoke PVC does when it burns.

The 2007 Croydon Residential Fire
The 2007 Croydon Residential Fire
In terms of the fires involving PVC windows in Croydon in 2007 and Camberwell in 2009, BBC London “learned of the striking similarities in the Lakanal disaster to that of the fire which destroyed the block in Croydon, on Christmas Day 2007. The official report into that fire blamed incorrect installation of PVC windows. Along with replacement PVC windows in place, neither had had a valid fire risk assessment – meaning both councils had not carried out basic safety checks.” Read Ed Davey’s entire BBC News article

Given that six people died as recently as July 2009 in London because of these factors, we should think seriously about not only what type of windows we have, but also how they are installed, and in essence carry out our own common sense fire risk assessment of where we live. When looking for replacement double glazed windows or energy efficient windows for an extension or new build project (which must comply with Building Regulations anyway), it is worth remembering that, in my view, cheaper is very rarely better, as in this precious life, one tends to get what one pays for and living in safety is something you can not put a price to.


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