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“Grenfell fire gave the construction industry the wake up call it needed,” according to a leading Suffolk manufacturer of safety and access products

PUBLISHED: 16:33 15 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:31 16 August 2018

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the managing director of a Suffolk-based manufacturer of safety and access products claims that consideration given by architects, contractors and building owners to fire safety “has never been greater,” but there is still work that can be done to prevent such an accident happening in the future.

James Fisher heads up the Bury Saint Edmunds-headquartered Bilco UK, which serves the commercial market with standard and bespoke roof access hatches, floor door, ladders and smoke vents. His company recently required Profab Access in Warwickshire, a manufacturer of riser doors and steel doors which claims to be the only access product manufacturer to provide fire certification guarantees across its range.

The fire at Grenfell Tower, which was one of the worst incidents of its kind in UK history, laid bare lax attitudes to fire protection and the limitations of the current building regulations.

Mr Fisher admits that Grenfell has “without doubt given the Construction Industry the wake up call it needed.”

The recent Hackitt Report on the Grenfell Tower tragedy concluding that indifference and ignorance led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices, with cost prioritised over safety. But in the 12 months following the Grenfell incident, the number of tenders for fire safety work issued by the public sector soared by 56%.

“We have always taken the responsible approach when it comes to testing and compliance to regulation, and welcome the positive changes that will come to ensure building occupiers are living or working in a safer environment,” Mr Fisher said.

He says he feels that the once-common practice of ‘breaking specs’ - where the contractor could select an alternative product to the one recommended by the architect, and sometimes overlook it’s performance specification - changed post Grenfell.

“We are certainly seeing that (change) to be the case on all product lines,” Mr Fisher said. “With Grenfell, the door to the flat should have been tested to hold back the fire for 30 minutes. Many door manufacturers will have had their products third party tested from the outside, so as to protect the occupants and the flat. In the case of Grenfell, this of course failed and this is part of the ongoing investigation.”

Mr Fisher explained that the Grenfell fire tragedy highlighted that regulation requires testing “from both sides,” ensuring that a fire within a flat will be contained to stop it spreading to the landing. “This is not being put into practice for all products currently on the market,” Mr Fisher warned. “We are all aware that the Government is looking closely at the fire testing of door sets in general, and that Approved Document B (the relevant regulation) highlights the need for fire testing from both sides.”

Bilco UK’s latest acquisition, Profab, in March 2018, is a family business established in 2001 that employs 75 staff from its 46,000 sq ft base in Atherstone.

Profab will now come under the fold of parent company Bilco UK, operating under ERA Homes Security, which also acquired another British family company, Howe Green, a Hertfordshire-based manufacturer of fabricated floor access covers, linear drainage, tree pit covers and bespoke metalwork, in April 2017.

In total, Bilco UK now employs 120 people and is headquartered in Bury Saint Edmunds. Mr Fisher says his newly expanded company will continue to function as three separate businesses.

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