Hazards Campaign comment: Lessons of the Grenfell disaster must spell an end to the Tory deregulation fetish

The Hazards Campaign is launching a drive to reclaim regulation and stop the deadly ‘better regulation’ that caused Grenfell and so many other deaths at work, at home, from unsafe food and from environmental pollution. 

One year on, the Hazards Campaign renews the call that the Grenfell Tower fire must be the ‘Enough is Enough’ moment when deregulation of health and safety is officially acknowledged as deadly and dangerous, the Tory fetish with deregulation ended, and a system of strong laws, strictly enforced intended solely to protect us at work, at home and in the environment is restored and reinvigorated.

Getting truth and justice for Grenfell, workers and citizens means reclaiming strong regulation, strictly enforced, as a social good!

We want an end to the lies and denigration of health and safety as ‘pointless ‘red tape’ and a ‘burden on business’  are banished for good.  6th July is also the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha fire which was the worst fire in UK in peace time, killing 167 people.

The Grenfell fire was no accident, but an atrocity graphically foretold by tenants  and rightly called social murder as the state permitted this to happen.  It is also about austerity,  poverty, inequality, housing policies , gentrification, social cleansing, and racism  about which Profs. Dave Whyte, Steve Tombs, and  many eminent people have written.

The root cause of the Grenfell fire is that the system of laws and enforcement on fire and building safety which most people thought was keeping them safe in their homes, became so bad that it allowed flammable material to be wrapped around a previously fire-safe tower block turning it into a death trap, causing an inferno, that firefighters could not put out, killing 72, injuring 70 and traumatising survivors and countless others in the local community.

It was weakening of the laws and enforcement around fire safety to benefit profit making by construction, manufacturers of material and property businesses that enabled the unsafe refurbishment to Grenfell Tower.  This lax system allowed the use of flammable materials in cladding and insulation, the privatisation of building control safety allowing non- fire experts to inspect premises and building works, and sign off safety, refusal by government ministers since 2010 to review and change Part B of the Building  Regulations recommended by the Coroner after the Laknal fire in 2009, and repeated many times by many fire experts. The cuts to fire and rescue services made the job of fighting the fire so much harder.

Hazards Magazine ‘Blue Murder’ shows the dismantling fire safety is part of the wider political attacks on workers and public health and safety over the last 40 years, From Thatcher’s ‘bonfire of regulations’, through Blair/Brown’s ‘better  regulation’, ‘ light touch, limited touch’ regulations up to 2010 and then turbo charged by David Cameron vowing to ‘kill of health and safety culture for good’ and calling for ‘bonfire of red tape’, continued by Tory government s including using trade deals and Brexit as a way to cut protection of citizens  and the environment even more

Grenfell was the real life ‘bonfire of red tape’ David Cameron had demanded.   Hazards Campaign immediately relaunched the ‘We Love Red Tape it’s better than bloody bandages’ campaign as a postcard and ecard to Theresa May:

“When you tear up critical fire, building, product, environmental and workplace safety laws, you are not removing red tape you are removing the protection necessary to keep us safe. The Grenfell Tower fire is one shocking example of the consequences of your government’s ‘bonfire of health and safety regulations’.  Enough is enough, stop undermining safety laws at work in our homes and our communities- instead keep improve and enforce and uphold the laws that protect us.” 

15,000 postcards and ecards were sent to Theresa May.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, deregulation and the war on red tape was publicly  identified by many as the chief culprit  Even usually health and safety-hating tabloids  accepted that the fire itself showed that fire safety law had failed..

The Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, IOSH, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister  calling for an end to deregulation.

Architecture and fire experts including Arnold Tarling , Sam Webb and the Fire Brigades, had warned of refurbishment compromising the built-in fire safety containment  of tower blocks. There were warnings from the 1980s  and especially since the Laknal House Fire in 2009  and  the Coroner’s recommendations for a review of the Building Regulations.

All warnings, even via the All Party Parliamentary Group on  Fire and Rescue  were disregarded, often with extreme contempt,  especially since 2010, by Tory ministers hell bent on removing ‘red tape and burdens’  from business  and ignoring clearly warned of  consequences for fire safety and lives of those in tower blocks. The Scottish Government  did change their Building Regulations in 2005 after a fire in a 14 storey tower block in Irvine, Ayrshire that killed one person, showing it  could be done.

For many years Hazards Campaign and Hazards Magazine have fought  for better health and safety at work and especially since 2010 via ‘We didn’t vote to die at Work’ campaign. We warned again and again of the consequences of deregulation   of workplace safety  

Even though around 140 people die due to preventable incidents and illnesses caused by work each day – the equivalent  of two Grenfell fires every single day – these worker deaths are spread across the country, happen in ones and twos in incidents  which may not even make the local news, or years later as people die in their beds  of lung, heart disease and cancers due to work. link to http://www.hazardscampaign.org.uk/blog/death-at-work-trend-going-upwards-yet-deadly-deregulation-still-remains-government-obsession

Work deaths are not as horrifyingly public as the Grenfell fire. We hoped the Grenfell atrocity was so terrible  it would be the moment that changed everything, when deregulation could be stopped,  reversed, and a formal recognition that protective laws like fire safety are necessary, a civilised, social good, not bureaucratic ‘red tape or  a burden on business’.  However we expected  a backlash, a blaming everyone lower down, the victims, a retreat from the real causes and attempts to cover things up and a complete lack of urgent tightening of laws to make tower blocks safer.   And so it has proved with deregulation falling off the agenda .

The blame is still not focused on the real culprits, governments and ministers responsible for the deadly deregulation of laws and enforcement meant to keep us safe at work, in the environment and in our own homes, and the businesses that took advantage and profited from it..  Government and ministers should be held to account for Grenfell deaths, not the firefighters who came to save lives in an impossible fire they did not create.

The fire itself showed that the Building Regulations were ‘not fit for purpose’ and that combustible/flammable materials should not be permitted on the outside – or inside – of tower blocks. Yet Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building Regulations Review did not suggest immediate changes to Approved Document B of Building Regulations,  or  a ban on flammable cladding/insulation (or retro fitting sprinklers, or second means of egress).  While  the government has said flammable cladding will be banned, there is likely to be the sort of ‘Red tape’ consultation which may give equal or more weight to the corporate bodies who make, sell, buy and install this material and who are already lobbying against any ban .

The response of the national and local state at the time of the fire, and since,  has been widely acknowledged as abysmal, with victories only being won due to local community organising effectively for  practical relief, and  for justice and truth. Theresa May has ruled outside the terms of reference of the Public Inquiry (PI)  any scrutiny of government policies or questioning of ministers who took decisions that rejected warnings which could have  prevented  the Grenfell fire. The criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police has also ruled government policies outside of its remit.

This rigging of the PI and criminal investigation shields  and protects those at the top who are not held to account for their action, their culpability hidden, and we have seen the usual victim blaming fall to new lows at the PI. From the man whose fridge caught fire – though not the fridge manufacturers whose faulty appliances  are responsible for  60 house  fires a week –  Grenfell residents have been blamed and demonised as being ‘migrants and scroungers’,  and recently at the PI the obscene spectacle of lawyers grilling firefighters like  Mike Dowden instead of the ex  London Mayor, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea leaders, the KC Tenant Management Organisation,  and Fire Service bosses, who had the power and made decisions about fire safety in Grenfell Tower,  firefighting policy, and  cuts to services, resources and training.  Mike Dowden, a brave and dedicated junior fire officer was questioned as if personally responsible for the  ‘Stay Put’ advice and decisions that turned a safe tower block into deadly inferno by cladding it in flammable plastic products equivalent to 32,000 litres of petrol as a new low.  Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU said “The Stay Put decision was redundant the minute anyone was permitted to slap flammable materials on the outside of tower blocks.”

The PI has a long way to run, but the bizarre chronology of putting fire fighters in line for scrutiny before those who created the inferno, has led to a nasty feeling.  We hope that the manufacturers of the cladding, insulation and all who specified, bought,  installed and inspected it and passed t as safe, will come in for just as rigorous questioning and scrutiny when their turn comes.

On the first anniversary of Grenfell, all around the country directed by the community at Grenfell, moving memorials were held to both remember and mourn all those killed but also to support their families and the community in their fight for justice and truth.  In an event  organised by Salford Trades Council,  held in the shadow of some of the tower blocks clad in similar material to that at Grenfell,  Hilda Palmer of Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, Families Against Corporate Killers and the  Hazards Campaign read out the names of the 72 who were killed,  in a heart-breaking testimony to their legalised social  murder.

For  justice, for those killed and hurt, and for the truth, the Hazards Campaign is launching a drive to reclaim regulation and stop the deadly ‘better regulation’ that caused Grenfell and so many other deaths at work, at home, from unsafe food and from environmental pollution, the  Hazards Campaign demands:

  • An end to health and safety deregulation and reclamation of  the philosophy that regulation as good for all of us and is what a civilised state should provide for its citizens.
  •   Establishing that the primary and sole purpose of health and safety regulatory watchdogs  shall be the prevention of harm to the lives, health, safety and welfare of workers, citizens and the environment, not the protection of business interests first.
  • Provision of adequate funding, resources and independence to health and safety regulatory watchdogs  the HSE, Local  Authorities  etc – given real teeth and power to enforce their primary and sole purpose.
  • Restoration of proactive, preventative inspections to check on employers’ compliance, and far more prosecutions and enforcement actions against non-compliant and criminal employers and businesses.
  • Dismantling of the apparatus of ‘Better Regulation’ which is the mechanism by which deregulation operates, including an immediate end to:  Business Impact Targets – considering only business costs not health consequences;  the One in Three out approach  -no new law unless three laws of equivalent cost are  repealed;   the ‘Growth duty’ on health and safety enforcement authorities meaning they must consider first the impact of regulating on the business interests; the Primary Authority scheme allowing national companies to shop around for a Local Authority regulator and enter into a commercialised  relationship.
  • An end to the dishonest rhetoric denigrating health, safety and fire safety regulation and the  start of honest assessment of the value of regulation, the cost of poor regulation and enforcement, who it falls upon, and the collection and publication of statistic that reveal the true harm caused by employer and business full

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