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Resident managers urged to review fire-safety following London blaze

Saturday 01, Nov 2014

Resident managers are being urged to thoroughly review their building’s fire safety measures following reports that the devastating London apartment fire that has claimed more than 58 lives was made worse by poor management and inadequate safety standards.

A fire tore through a 24-storey West London apartment building last week, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 70.

Combustible external cladding is widely believed to have contributed to the fire’s fast spread but the exact cause of the fire is still unknown.

Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, built in 1974, housed at least 400 people in 120 apartments.

Reports of numerous failures in safety standards at the building has prompted an urgent call from Australian Resident Accommodation Managers’ Association (ARAMA), a peak industry body representing resident managers, to ensure all aspects of fire safety in their buildings are of the highest standard.

ARAMA CEO Trevor Rawnsley says the London fire is a tragic example of the devastating consequences of a poorly managed building.

“Dodgy external cladding is obviously a grave concern for resident managers, who generally also live in their buildings, but what is most concerning about the London fire is the failure of several other basic fire-safety management processes that could have saved numerous lives.”

“High-rise living by its very nature has increased fire risks and that’s why it’s so important that resident managers comply with standards and employ vigorous safety measures to minimise the risk of a fire starting and to ensure the safety of occupants in an emergency.”

Mr Rawnsley says there were clear basic failures in Grenfell Tower’s management.

“With a blocked staircase, no sprinklers, broken alarms, no fire-proof doors, bad evacuation advice or no advice at all, no access for emergency vehicles and no safety checks following a major refurbishment, it’s amazing that no incident had occurred beforehand.”

“These are basic fire-safety measures that a buildings’ management should be adhering to and had any of these issues been addressed it would have undoubtedly saved lives.”

Mr Rawnsley says by far the worst failure was not listening to residents’ concerns.

“The fact that the building’s management had been warned of insufficient fire-safety by residents is inexcusable.”

“When residents raise issues of safety, when they raise life-threatening issues, they need to be listened to and the issue needs to be acted on.”

“Who knows the building better than the people who live in it?”

Mr Rawnsley is calling on the Government to urgently establish a site inspection process of the external cladding of all strata title buildings in across Australia.

“It may be arduous but for the safety of all Australian apartment owners we need to ensure that the material comprised in external cladding or the installation method of external cladding does not present fire hazards.”

Being responsible for the safety of a building and its occupants’ Mr Rawnsley says resident managers have an important role in managing fire risk.

“A resident manager for ARAMA needs to keep up to date with legislative issues, industry activities and industry practices and this includes fire safety.”

“Managers need to ensure that all fire safety processes are in order, that sprinklers are working, modern smoke alarms, fire doors and firefighting equipment are installed and adequate and unobstructed exit routes and access for emergency vehicles are in place.”

Mr Rawnsley says Australian resident managers must be proactive to ensure that a tragedy like London does not happen to their buildings.

“All resident managers should be working with their communities to thoroughly review their building’s fire safety measures, ensure that their buildings’ annual fire safety audit is up to date and to bring any identified remedial action items to the immediate attention of the Body Corporate/Owners Corporation.”

“ARAMA is also calling for all body corporate/owners corporations to review the maintenance plans and safety audits and ensure that sufficient funding is in place to undertake urgent fire safety remedial action work if necessary.”

Mr Rawnsley says strata communities and resident managers also need to realise the insurance implications of unsafe building materials.

“Construction materials of the building play a big part in determining what you will or won’t pay for insurance and also if you will be covered or not in the event of a claim.”

“Not accurately disclosing the true construction materials could result in a breach of the duty of disclosure resulting in no cover being in place should something devastating occur like what happened in London.”

“All management rights operators if they are uncertain of the materials used in their building or the recent renovation, should contact their strata insurer and confirm everything has been disclosed to them accordingly.”

“This will ensure in the event of a claim all parties have been notified of the potential risks and the policy will respond accordingly.”

Apartment owners concerned about the risk of fire in their building should talk to their resident manager to address any concerns.