Safety measures failed in construction of Ronan Point and Grenfell Tower

On Thursday 16th May 1968, the 22 storey building in Canning town, Newham, East London collapsed due to a gas explosion. On the day of explosion approximately around 5:45am one of the residents on the 18th floor lit a gas stove with a match unaware of the gas leakage. This led to the explosion and the tenant was knocked unconscious across the floor of the kitchen with few minor burns. The explosion wasn’t massive therefore only the living room was affected where one side of the area collapsed but then later on the pressure from the upper section of the building collapsing resulted in a chain reaction straight down the entire building.

The aftermath of the Ronan Point collapse in 1968 (Picture: Alamy)

The new build was ordered by Newham borough council around the time when there was a huge housing crisis in cities due to post world war in Britain; thousands of new houses were being built around the time. The building was built using the Larsen Nielson/large panel system method which was known to be time saving and less resources needed to be used. In terms of structure it was very simple comparison to other structures at the time. Research and few surveys shows that this structural design was only meant for maximum 6 storey buildings which is another reason why the building was a serious safety hazard.

Ronan Point, 17th May 1968. Photographer: Michael Burnett

After the event, the government was highly pressured by the public/residents to investigate the incident which got approved and further investigation was made. In the time of investigation engineers discovered evidence which proved that the joints holding the panels together were extremely weak and unsuitable for building. Instead of using concrete on those joints to secure the stability of the panels they used newspapers in some parts and in most areas they didn’t even have metal bars inserted to hold the walls together. It is known that at the time of construction only 20% of the required resources were being used and 80% was missing; the job was delegated to unskilled builders because of the increasing demand in the building those houses in less time. The safety was completely ignored at this point instead; the real reason behind this was ‘easy money’ because the quicker the job was done the more they would get paid. The building was demolished in 1986 even after it was reinforced again after the incident because the residents reported cracks on the walls. There were still fundamental problems found in the design of Ronan point afterwards.

The incident resulted in 4 deaths and 17 were injured since it was a new build there were not many people living under the roofs of these apartments. The work began in 1966 and it was done by 1968 for only the cost of £500,000, this was a 22 storey building. In today’s date a 20 storey building would costs about 40-50 million in average to build. Recently, surveys show that there are around 1,585 Ronan Point style buildings build using the same method.

Ronan Point, 17th May 1968. Photographer: Michael Burnett

This leads to a similar incident that occurred in 2017. The Grenfell tower fire explosion was one of the most disastrous events that took place in the UK. 

999 call was made by a tenant on the 4th floor of the 23 storey building around 00:54 on 14th June 2017. The tenant was woken up by the smoke alarm in the middle of the night just to find the kitchen covered in smoke where he found out the smoke was coming from the direction of his fridge. Sonner the smoke turned into a fire and rapidly spread upwards the Grenfell Tower. The fire moved vertically along the cladding above and across the centre on the building very quickly. The first fire brigade arrived at the scene at 00:59 and entered the building at 01:07 am.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 14: In this image taken by eyewitness Gurbuz Binici (Photo by Gurbuz Binici /Getty Images)

40 fire engines were at the scene in total by the end of the incident. While the fire was ongoing the emergency services instructed the residents to stay in and do not try to escape; it was the ‘stay put policy’ which failed and the fire flared even harder. Some people completely ignored the instructions and managed to escape safely. A ‘stay put policy’ is a term which refers to; if in case of a fire event, the building is designed to prevent the fire from spreading. This wasn’t the case for Grenfell Tower because the materials used to construct that building was highly flammable, especially the cladding used in the entire building. There was no sprinkler system in the building which is also very uncommon in UK houses. One of issues encountered at the fire scene was how quickly the fire moved across the entire building leading to a conclusion that the structure was poorly designed.

The Grenfell Tower was recently renovated just before the event of explosion in 2016. It is said that the Tenant & Residents association (TRA) brought the risks forward when the building was renovated because they identified few issues with the safety of the building but nothing was done to fix it.

72 deaths and hundreds lost their homes.

Grenfell tower, 2017, Photo credit: Getty image

After the horrifying event the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has taken many actions in safety of residential building.

Still, there are council buildings that follow the same structural designs today and even though council may say that it is completely safe however, most of these building still do not meet the maximum requirement of health and safety guidelines unless they are knocked down and build again from the scratch.

 

 

References:

Booth, R. (2018/27th Nov) Government to review safety advice amid new high-rise cladding fear. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/nov/27/government-to-review-safety-advice-amid-new-high-rise-cladding-fears-grenfell(Accessed: 19/07/2019).

Amy Looker (no date) Grenfell Tower fire safety: what went wrong?. Available at:  https://firesafetyservices.co.uk/grenfell-tower-fire-safety-what-went-wrong/(Accessed: 19/07/2019).

Ministry of housing, Communities & Local government (2018) Advice on external wall systems that do not incorporate Aluminium Composite Material. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/765761/Expert_Panel_advice_note_on_non-ACM.pdf (Accessed: 19/07/2019).

BBC News (2005) 1968: Three die as tower block collapses. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/may/16/newsid_2514000/2514277.stm (Accessed:19/07/2019).

‘Tenants’ and Residents’ Organisations of England ‘ (2012/2018)TAROE. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenants%27_and_Residents%27_Organisations_of_England (Accessed: 19/07/2019).

The Guardian, 17th May 1986 at https://www.theguardian.com/society/from-the-archive-blog/gallery/2018/may/16/ronan-point-tower-collapse-may-1968

The collapse of Ronan Point (2019/2019) Available at: https://www.hidden-histories.org/2019/02/26/the-collapse-of-ronan-point/ (Accessed: 19/07/2019).

BBC News (2018) Grenfell Tower: ‘Catastrophic’ Safety failures outlined. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44351567 (Accessed: 19/07/2019).

Cynthia Pearson and Norbert Delatte (2005/2014) Ronan Point apartment tower collapse and its effect on building codes. Available at: https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=encee_facpub(Accessed: 19/07/2019).

Cook, C. (2018/2018) Ronan Point: a fifty-year building safety problem. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-44498608 (Accessed: 19/07/2019).

BBC newslight (2018) Ronan Point: a 50 year building safety problem. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Tmiomc9vcY&t=138s (Accessed: 19/07/2019).

By Natalie Oxford – https://twitter.com/Natalie_Oxford/status/874835244989513729/photo/1, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59913134

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