THE GRENFELL TOWER FIRE

The Grenfell Tower Fire – What lessons can be learnt and how might Photoluminescent Escape Route Marking Systems have helped save lives?

Adrian Iley, Director, Photoluminescent Safety Products Association.
The terrible fire and multiple deaths resulting from the Grenfell Tower fire has inevitably resulted in a widespread inquest into the circumstances which lead up to the fire and in particular, the properties of the cladding materials used. This has uncovered the fact that Grenfell is just one of many examples where a combination of budget pressure and poor oversight seems to have allowed corners to be cut when it comes to the safety of residents in similar high-rise buildings.
Of course the jury is out pending such enquiries but it is already clear that the quality of cladding materials used was only one part of the story – there were clearly many other areas where the safety of the residents was compromised. In particular, the lack of any kind of effective escape route marking system which could aid escape in such dangerous circumstances; e.g. stairways in thick smoke conditions. The report in the Sunday Times (25 June) stated ‘The Grenfell stairwell should have provided a safe passage away from danger; instead, as toxic draughts swirled through the building, it turned into a vertical tunnel of smoke. Heavily laden fireman trying to reach higher floors and residents desperate to flee downstairs were left groping around in a poisonous darkness and harrowing scenes of desperation and panic……..the smoke grew thicker with each floor we went up….around the ninth floor we lost all visibility and the heat was rising……….”It was horrendous,” one firefighter said. “You could not see your hand in front of your face.”

Of course we should not forget that there were other factors which probably also contributed to the death toll; especially the ‘stay put’ policy which is now under general review. Nevertheless, the safe movement of people in smoke conditions down a stairway and away from danger is surely an area that should be reviewed in the light of this tragedy. It is an unfortunate fact of life that only when there are such disasters do Governments and Authorities seriously consider and implement laws and regulations to improve public safety.

I did not see the emergency evacuation system in the Grenfell Tower but from looking at the BBC commentary on a similar tower block in the vicinity there did not seem to be any markings at all in the stairwells. However if we assume as a minimum that there were high level mounted electrical EXIT signs above main escape doors combined with escape plans on each floor this was clearly not enough to help people in these extreme conditions.

The Photoluminescent Safety Products Association is a Trade Association representing the voice of companies worldwide who promote the use of Photoluminescent materials (incorporated into paint, plastic and printed products). These absorb UV energy, then store and re-emit it in the form of visible light for many safety applications. The great benefit of Photoluminescent (PL) systems is that in the event of a total power failure they provide sufficient light to give directional indications on an escape route.

Examples of Photoluminescent low level applications.

There was an interesting study made by Ilmenau University in Germany in 2003 where PL systems were compared with electrical evacuation systems in smoky conditions (typical of an emergency situation). The study concluded that continuous lines of low ambient light fitted at a low level (c1m off the floor) were found to be much more effective as an escape route marking system than high mounted high brightness electrical sources which in smoke could be obscured and cause disorientation due to light scattering effects.

There were two subsequent studies made in 2007 and 2008 by the National Research Council in Canada (NRC) where different layouts of PL evacuation systems were tested in four stairwells to establish which was most effective at evacuating people in an emergency. These clearly demonstrated that a relatively simple and cost-effective system can significantly aid the fast evacuation from buildings.

The events of September 11 2001 in New York and the subsequent blackout in 2003 led to the implementation on May 31 2005 of ‘Local Law 26’. This specified the installation of low level PL systems in all stairwells of High-Rise buildings in New York City. The effectiveness of these systems had already been proven in 2001 to have enabled people to evacuate the Twin Towers in a total power failure situation in smoke when they might otherwise have perished.

In ISO16069 there is a very clear standard for PL use in public buildings which is entirely appropriate for application in High-Rise buildings such as Grenfell Tower at reasonable cost and with a minimum of disruption to the inhabitants.

There are numerous other applications today of PL evacuation systems in regular use. Good examples are in areas of public transport: passenger aircraft, cruise ships, railways and road tunnels. PL evacuation systems are well proven and provided they are supplied and fitted by companies whose product meets the minimum performance standards required for the application they should be seriously considered as a standard back-up system to the commonly prescribed electrical Emergency lighting. Certainly it would provide an effective escape route even in smoke conditions to safety for residents of High-Rise buildings.
AGI© July.2017
References: www.pspa.org.uk; http://www-lit.maschinenbau.tu-ilmenau.de ; NRC IRC-IR-T14 ; NRCC-51157 ;
Local Law 26 New York Code ; ISO16069

THE GRENFELL TOWER FIRE

The Grenfell Tower Fire – What lessons can be learnt and how might Photoluminescent Escape Route Marking Systems have helped save lives?

Written by Adrian Iley, Treasurer, Photoluminescent Safety Products Association, this insightful article looks at how the tragedy unfolded and considers how photoluminescent products can help prevent such devastation from happening again.

Simply follow his blog using this link http://www.pspa.org.uk/category/blog/

WHY PHOTOLUMINESCENT MAKES GOOD SENSE

Having a professionally installed Photoluminescent Safety Way Guidance System (SWGS) can:

  • REDUCE THE RISK OF A DISASTER

In the event of a fire or emergency, the installation of a SWGS will go a long way to proving that the company has carried out its legal requirement of performing a risk assessment and has a caring and responsive attitude towards risk. SWGS’s can negate the following risks:

  • Stairwells are classified as unoccupied areas in a building and are therefore unfamiliar to the occupants – unfamiliar areas carry an extra risk for slower movement and egress.
  • Emergency lighting and electrical power are vulnerable and fail.
  • Emergency lighting is not activated by fire or disaster but by power failure. Many occupied spaces do not require emergency lighting and offer risks to occupants.
  • Emergency lighting has a period of vulnerability after power failure due to charging of batteries.
  • Generator powered emergency lighting has a lead time that can delay evacuation.
  • High mounted EXIT signs are not visible in smoke and can be destroyed by heat.
  • Ceiling mounted emergency lighting becomes smoked logged in smoke.
  • Over door mounted EXIT signs do not generally give sufficient directional information for efficient egress.
  •  Potential for overcrowding on stairwells and slow moving evacuees.

The consequences of not addressing the risks in your business and subsequently having a disaster could vary from low moral and low productivity through to a shut down of a plant or even loss of life. Fire is a threat that can never be eliminated and should always be treated very seriously.

  • PROTECT YOUR COMPANY FROM EXTERNAL THREATS

Having a written fire risk assessment and a SWGS in place will help to protect your business from external threats if a fire or emergency were to happen. The company would probably not have to deal with legal issues of negligence or corporate manslaughter, non-payment of insurance, bad publicity, supply withdrawal or a decline in sales. Instead it would be able to focus on a recovery plan and safeguard the long term future of the business.

  •  IMPROVE INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

A SWGS can improve employer/employee relations as staff, after installation, know that the management care about their well being. This in turn leads to employee job satisfaction and higher productivity. It also leads to long term loyalty, a lower staff turnover and less trade union action.

  • IMPROVE PROFITABILITY

Tenants want to know that their buildings are safe and energy efficient and are willing to pay for such privileges. Property owners and management companies can therefore gain a competitive advantage from installing a SWGS and charge a higher rental for a relatively small investment in the premises.

  • IMPROVE YOUR CUSTOMER IMAGE

A SWGS can impress visitors and give your building an air of prestige and you an air of competence. If you look on the ball about safety issues, then you are probably on the ball about all the other issues that affect your business.