Wednesday

17th Jul 2019

Opinion

EU approach to fire safety urgently needed

  • The Grenfell tower tragedy in London on 14 June left at least 80 dead and over 70 injured. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Those who vote in the European Parliament elections, no matter what their politics, want MEPs to help them to prosper, innovate and be healthy.

An even more fundamental duty of an elected member of parliament is to help people be safe. Safe where they live, learn, play, socialise and work.

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Whereas in the 1950s, you had about 25 minutes for a room to be engulfed in flames, now it is down to 3-5 minutes.

The inhabitants of the Grenfell tower in London were not safe when fire broke out on the night of 14 June this year, nor for a long time before that. Neither were those who went for nights out at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, or the Cuba Libre club in Rouen, France.

And as we are learning in the aftermath of those tragedies, there are many more Europeans that are needlessly at risk, daily, of death or injury if a fire were to break out in their vicinity.

We in the European institutions have missed something out. There are severe inadequacies in fire safety measures across the EU. And while national governments are responsible for fire safety standards in buildings, we are far from powerless at EU level to change some crucial areas of fire safety in buildings.

Not only can we make changes, we can do so rapidly.

On 13 September, the EU parliament plenary session will hold a debate on fire safety in buildings. Together with fellow MEPs from across the political spectrum, I want this debate to kick start three concrete actions.

Firstly, the European Commission must introduce obligatory testing of the toxicity of smoke from construction products and the subsequent labelling of products with their results.

Smoke is the biggest killer in fires, responsible for over half of fire-related deaths. An increasing number of combustible products are used in construction but there is no way of knowing in advance which products are likely to be more or less toxic when they catch fire.

Secondly, we need to change a misguided EU-wide approach currently being developed on testing how facades of low buildings perform in a fire.

It is logical that tests to evaluate the performance of facades in a fire are based on real-life situations where fires can be large scale.

However, the facade tests, which the EU commission considers applying across the EU, do not meet this fundamental condition. We could end up with a "wait and see" approach in finding out whether a facade that has been fire-tested in a lab will react the same in a real fire.

Thirdly, with no coordinated approach towards fire safety amongst the current 28 member states, there is a pressing need for an initiative where countries can learn from each other through exchanging their experiences and best practices.

For example, many EU countries have recently changed their regulations and now require non-combustible products to be used on the facades of buildings above a certain height. There is a role for the EU commission to encourage other countries to follow suit.

We cannot bring the victims back, but we can demonstrate our will, and the ability of European governance, to act now in such a way as to ensure that such neglect can never occur again.

It is our duty to our fellow Europeans.

Michal Boni is a Polish MEP in the EPP group of the European Parliament.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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