Construction Best Practices

Cladding Remediation and Improving Fire Safety in the UK’s High-Rise Buildings


We’ve known about the importance of fire safety in the UK for a long time. Events like the Great Fire of London in the 17th century showed us what could happen when we didn’t take adequate precautions to prevent catastrophic fires.

But the truth is, until something as shocking as the Grenfell Tower fire actually happens, there’s not enough will – political or otherwise – to do something concrete about it. Unfortunately, the tragedy has taught us with fire safety in the UK: when you know better, you do better. Cladding remediation work has been a direct result of a horrible lesson learned. 

A picture of a high rise building undergoing cladding remediation

The History of Building Safety Regulations

Since we have had catastrophic events like the fire of London throughout history, you might think that we’ve always been working on improving building safety, but you’d be wrong.

In fact, it wasn’t until the Public Health Act of 1875 that the UK had its first piece of national legislation that addressed, at least in part, building safety. The modern Building Regulations came into force in 1966, and since then, we’ve had many amendments, additions, and changes to improve and expand the building safety regulations in the UK.

Two workmen on site applying cladding remediation changes

Current Building Safety Regulations

While it definitely took the UK some time to recognise the importance of building safety, we’ve come a long way since then. These days, we have comprehensive and detailed building safety legislation like the Building Safety Act of 2022 that creates a framework for building safer structures and ensuring that the people doing the construction are safe while they do.

In fact, there are now dozens of pieces of legislation related to cladding remediation and building safety in the UK, and you can view it all on the government website.

What is a cladding system?

The term ‘cladding’ can often be used quite loosely. In construction, a cladding system generally refers to an outer layer of a building that can be applied for aesthetics, thermal insulation, or weatherproofing. The basic components that make up cladding materials are the thermal insulation and the front façade panel. The nature of cladding varies from the traditional looking brickwork or those that look more modern and sheet-like.

What types of cladding need remediation? Why is cladding remediation needed?

The process of cladding remediation is the identification and replacement of any existing unsafe cladding. These are usually deemed unsafe due to unfit fire safety certification, so it may be no surprise that existing buildings that are covered in this type of cladding are at increased risk of fires. Buildings that have subsequent remediation works will have to include a EWS1 form to provide both residents and lenders with confidence that a building's wall construction is free of combustible materials.

How many buildings are affected?

Unfortunately, the government predicts that there are around 12,500 residential buildings that need to be remediated. Full Fact claims that this affects around 760,000 residents and 600,000 landlords. The threshold for remediation works is currently for buildings that stand over 18 metres tall.

Contractors can use technology, too, to provide a single source of truth for their projects or to create clear lines of accountability, using tools like Field View and other modern construction software.

Cladding regulations in the UK have changed

A Helping Hand from Tech

One of the biggest advantages we have in the construction industry today is technology. 

When London burned in the 17th century, no one thought twice about fire safety in the UK. In the 1970s, when Grenfell Tower was built, we were just starting to develop building safety regulations in the UK to what they are today.

These days, we have all the resources we could possibly want or need online at our fingertips.

We’ve got researchers harnessing the power of fungi to create fireproof materials and companies developing newer, safer products all the time.

AI is fast becoming one of the most promising technologies in the construction and building safety world, too, with its ability to rapidly and reliably interpret huge volumes of data related to building safety. Soon, we’ll be relying even more on AI-based technologies to design future buildings and carry out fire risk assessments.

Contractors can use technology, too, to provide a single source of truth for their projects or to create clear lines of accountability, using tools like Field View and other modern construction software.

The truth is, it’s very difficult to figure out exactly who made which mistakes with a situation like Grenfell Tower. Many of the paper records from old building projects have simply disappeared, moved into an unknown storage area or simply because the paper itself disintegrated.

Today, every record from every construction project is stored securely on the cloud. It will never deteriorate or disappear, and it’s a lot easier to ensure that everyone from the very bottom of to the absolute top of the chain of command is doing their part to be compliant.

We should never become complacent about fire safety in the UK again, and there’s always room to improve building safety regulations in the UK. But we’ve definitely got a whole lot more tools in our toolbox than our parents or grandparents did. 

With hard work, attention to detail and a focus on continuous improvement, hopefully, we’ll never see another tragedy like the one that happened at Grenfell Tower in 2017.