Sunday 24 September 2017

Hundreds of boom-builds are unsafe, say experts

Management firms 'burying their heads in sand', safety officials claim

Priory Hall
Priory Hall
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

HUNDREDS of apartment blocks built during the boom around the country could be as dangerous as Priory Hall, fire safety experts have warned.

Many apartment complexes share the same problems identified in the Tom McFeely-built block of apartments in north Dublin.

And fire safety inspectors who have been called to examine blocks say owners and management companies are "burying their heads in the sand" over the dangers.

One expert in the area of fire safety said last week that not only were residential buildings potentially dangerous, but so too were schools, healthcare premises and office buildings that went up in the boom era.

When asked to give an estimate of the number of potentially fire-hazardous buildings that were built during the time, the expert told the Sunday Independent: "No one knows, but hundreds, certainly hundreds."

One safety expert in Dublin last night identified three buildings – with ground-floor commercial premises and apartments over them – as being "as dangerous as Priory Hall", that had come to his attention in the past two months alone. He said two could be made safe with "remedial" work, but one would require much greater attention.

One of the most common fire-safety issues in the structures is the failure to "compartmentalise" apartments, common areas and other rooms where fires might start.

In many apartment blocks examined since the Priory Hall evictions, inspectors have found very similar problems around the failure to fire-proof the "risers" – the channels going up the buildings from the plant in underground car parks that handles heating, water and electricity and telecoms wiring. This was initially diagnosed as one of the main problems in Priory Hall, and the Dublin City Council inspectors' first move on the building was to close off the underground car park.

Fire-safety experts say the Government has failed to establish proper safety standards and has had a "haphazard" standard of inspection since builders were allowed to self-certify buildings from the Eighties onwards.

Inspections into the causes of fires are carried out by gardai only in instances where there is loss of life, or where arson is suspected. The Fire Brigade makes reports on fires but beyond that "almost nothing happens", one industry source said last week.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan is preparing new legislation – to increase inspections and provide for stiffer penalties – to be enacted next March in an amended Building Control Act.

But sources say there are concerns at provisions which allow local authority inspectors only three weeks to carry out fire-safety checks upon completion of the building.

During the boom there were very few thorough inspections of buildings, and builders and developers issued their own fire safety certificates based on plans – not on the actual construction of the buildings.

Safety inspectors say that the plans for buildings were often "perfect", but the difficulties arose in sharp building practice where shoddy work and cheap materials created problems with fire proofing.

They also complain that the inspection system and the identification of fire safety problems in buildings is hidden from public view.

"There is supposed to be transparency here, but there is no transparency here. We haven't a clue what's going on," one said.

Sunday Independent

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