Thursday

28th Jan 2021

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Analysis

Why Romania erupted in protest

Current anger over corruption laws can be traced back to a night-club fire in 2015, when many died because of lax safety standards. Romanians then realised that corruption can kill.

Romanian anti-corruption protests bring down PM

A nightclub fire that killed 32 people in Bucharest has triggered a popular movement against corruption in the capital and in the government. PM Ponta promised to resign.

First Covid, now McKinsey - how austerity hit EU healthcare

The marketisation of health and long-term care, the push for Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), and the public spending cuts encouraged by EU economic governance processes all contributed to the increased commercialisation, privatisation, and reduction of health and long-term care services.

Column

On Biden's China policy

America's legitimacy will ultimately rest in its capacity to get boots on the ground in heavily-contested environments, to undo Chinese surprise campaigns, and not to allow China to do what Russia did in the Crimea.

Why is Germany rushing a new Bosnia high representative?

The Office of the High Representative, tasked with coordinating international actors and ensuring implementation of the non-military components of the 1995 Dayton peace accords, has languished for a decade and a half.

News in Brief

  1. Putin holds out olive branch to Europe
  2. US snatched Russian anti-air system from Libya warlord
  3. UK to extradite alleged trafficker to EU despite Brexit
  4. EU puts trust in Boeing 737s after post-crash ban
  5. EU animal-export trade under harsh spotlight
  6. City of London wants to set rules for EU
  7. MEPs want 2030 targets to reduce consumption footprint
  8. Coronavirus cases worldwide pass 100m

Will EU ever take action to stop Israeli settlements?

The EU-Israel Association Agreement, and Israel's systematic violation of its article 2, must be stopped until Israel implements its obligations under international law. This should not be a matter of controversy, but the least peace-loving countries must do.

A digital euro - could it happen?

"Banknotes are still to stay," European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde said at a recent conference, "but I think we will have a digital euro."

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Poland imposes anti-abortion law amid EU concern
  2. The EU's vaccine strategy - the key points
  3. EU-AstraZeneca row flares up after vaccines shortfall
  4. First Covid, now McKinsey - how austerity hit EU healthcare
  5. Frontex suspends operations in Hungary
  6. Cyprus: a heavy caseload for new EU prosecutors office
  7. MEPs: Portugal 'risks undermining' trust in EU prosecutor
  8. EU to control vaccine exports in row over delays

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us