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HSE prepares wave of cladding replacement inspections

26 November 2018 | By Neil Gerrard

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will undertake a wave of inspections of high-rise residential buildings where remediation of dangerous cladding is taking place.

It has put together a team of 15 inspectors who will make unannounced visits to sites across England, Wales and Scotland. They will use information from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to identify buildings above 18m in height that have aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding which needs to be replaced.

The inspectors will be looking at the way the work is being carried out, specifically as far as issues of fire safety and working at height are concerned, rather than its compliance with Building Regulations.

However, in an unusual move, they will also be asking clients, designers and contractors specifically about the materials being used to replace the ACM cladding, whether they are class A1 or A2 under the European Reaction to Fire classification system, and reporting their findings back to MHCLG.

While inspections will cover all of Scotland, England and Wales, the majority are likely to take place in London and other English cities, reflecting the higher proportion of affected buildings in those areas.

Speaking to Construction Manager, Ray Cooke, head of the HSE’s construction sector safety team, said that his inspectors would be accompanied by members of the local Fire and Rescue Service on each visit.

He stressed that an inspection by HSE did not necessarily mean the building was considered 'high risk', as some of those identified by MHCLG have less than 1% ACM cladding, while others have more than one stair core, or a sprinkler system in place.

Cooke said: “In our targeting, I am not saying that the buildings we are visiting are high risk. We are weeding out the lower level of risk. I want to emphasise that and residents shouldn’t feel alarmed if we are visiting because that is definitely not the case.”

Unscheduled visits start "as soon as possible"

A total of 80-90 unscheduled visits are expected to be carried out and will start “as soon as possible”, most likely in the Manchester area.

Cooke said that thanks to MHCLG’s information on the buildings, it is able to identify all the relevant CDM clients and would be writing to all of them to set out what his inspectors would expect to see on site.

He said: “We want them all to know what the standards are so that there are no excuses. We don’t want to catch people out – we want them to get it right.”

Explaining that the decision to run the programme of inspections had been driven by HSE itself, he said: “When you started to see photos of people removing cladding in the aftermath of Grenfell and the way in which it was being removed, there was a cause for concern.”

He added: “The main focus of our inspections is fire safety issues, to make sure that work has been thought through and planned, and to make sure that clients, designers and contractors have all liaised properly. They will need to have liaised with local Fire and Rescue unless they have got very good fire knowledge themselves.

“But if this kind of work is planned and executed properly, then the level of risk should be incredibly low.”

Cooke also revealed that HSE is in discussions with LABC, local government and the Chief Fire Officers Association with a view to running combined visits to sites to assess safety risk and Building Regulations compliance.

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