LBWF and fire hazards in its housing stock: the appalling case of Northwood Tower in Walthamstow (2)

In response to ‘[s]everal recent articles in local newspapers’ about Northwood Tower, LBWF has just issued a PR release which predictably claims that the latter contain unspecified ‘misunderstandings and inaccuracies’ and seeks to reassure ‘residents and the wider community’ that the building is ‘safe and secure’.

No doubt local newspapers can respond for themselves, but as far as this blog is concerned, the PR release does not challenge any of the facts already posted.

LBWF admits that the 2018-19 Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) of Northwood Tower did indeed identify 65 necessary remedial actions, and adds the wholly new (and as yet unverified) information that 57 of these now have been completed.

We can all agree that such action is a very good thing.

But the PR statement is silent about what the ’65 actions’ were, and nor does it comment upon whether they had been identified for remediation previously.

However, the truth is quite simple: as the earlier post documents, many of the actions were about very important issues, and some most certainly had been flagged up in earlier assessments.

To reinforce this point, consider the following.

Each annual FRA lists relevant and largely standardised questions, which are either answered ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

The table below takes the questions answered ‘No’ in the 2015-16 Northwood Tower FRA (completed in December 2015), and looks at what transpired when they were asked again in the 2018-19 FRA (completed in June 2018):

 

Northwood Tower 2015-16 FRA: questions answered ‘No’ Northwood Tower 2018-19 FRA: answers to the same questions
Are portable appliances subject to regular PAT testing? No’
Are visible electrical installations in good condition? ‘No’
Is the lighting protection system adequately maintained? ‘Yes’
Are heating systems appropriate and adequately maintained? ‘Yes’
Do surface finishes have adequate resistance to surface spread of fire? ‘Yes’
Are circulation/office areas free from unnecessary fire load? ‘No’
Are service riser or cupboards free from unnecessary fire load? ‘Unknown’
Is there a system in place for the regular collection and disposal of rubbish and combustible waste? ‘No’
Are refuse chutes adequately maintained and with adequate fire resistance? ‘No’
Does fire separation and security between the communal area and the roof space appear adequate? ‘No’
Do flat fire doors provide adequate fire resistance and appropriate ironmongery? ‘No’
Do electrical/service cupboard doors have adequate fire resistance and appropriate ironmongery/signage? ‘No’
Do communal fire doors provide adequate fire resistance and appropriate ironmongery? ‘No’
Is the building adequately compartmentalised for the purpose of containing smoke and flame? ‘No’
Is there an effective emergency plan for the premises which is appropriately communicated to building users? ‘No’
Is a competent person appointed to manage fire safety? ‘No’
Have staff adequate training? ‘No’
Are fire log books and records suitable and sufficient? ‘Yes’
Are dry risers sufficient in number and adequately maintained? ‘Yes’
Is adequate emergency lighting provided? ‘Yes’
Is appropriate fire signage in place? ‘No’
Do lifts have ‘Do not use lift in event of fire’ signage ‘No’

 

A total of six of the 22 issues appear to have been dealt with, while 15 (i.e. more than two-thirds) recur.

And note the seriousness of those in the second group.

The bottom line is that, at the time of both investigations, Northwood Tower had – amongst other things –  no ‘competent person…to manage fire safety'; no ‘effective emergency plan…appropriately communicated to building users'; insufficient ‘fire signage'; no ‘system in place for the regular collection and disposal of rubbish and combustible waste'; poorly maintained visible electrical installations; and a whole range of inadequate fire doors and fire separation measures.

If, as the PR release claims, LBWF’s ‘top priority’ is always ‘[t]he safety of our residents’,  why did it allow these major flaws to persist between two FRAs 30 months apart?

It is difficult not to conclude that LBWF has been caught with its pants down, and as so often before, rather than admit its errors, is now engaged in a campaign of bluster and spin.

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