Perpetual fire safety

NB: We are not fire safety experts. We don’t have anything to do with the fire insurance industry and we don’t own stocks in any insurance companies.

It seems highly likely from past history that if nothing changes, fifteen years in the future we will be back to the same problems with fire safety that we have sadly seen in the past few days. What became clear from all the observations and commentaries on the fire safety issues that contributed to the Grenfell Tower disaster is that the greatest problem was one of cost. Yes, money – apparently politically more important than people’s lives. Currently, government policy sets fire safety minimums but as we have sadly seen this week minimum standards are not enough to keep people safe in their homes.

Really good fire safety costs money. So is there a way, with collective political will, for fire safety to save money? We believe there is. We believe the way forward is for fire safety that takes care of itself, and for this to happen, fire insurance needs to be like car insurance.

When we buy car insurance we have choices about options, but one of the choices we don’t have is whether or not our car insurance covers personal injuries and death. So why is it not the same for fire insurance? Why does fire insurance only cover contents and buildings?

First, we have to decide as a nation that fire insurance for buildings over a certain size, including stadiums, must cover injury and death, including responsibility for the immediate care of the victims. Then councils, companies and private owners must be legally obliged to have fire insurance policies for these buildings – they will not be permitted to self-insure. This will start the process whereby good fire safety will eventually save money.

If the fire insurance industry sells policies that cover injuries and death (providing, of course, arson cannot be proved) then the insurance industry will closely monitor fire safety at the buildings they insure. They will oversee construction and renovations and will inspect the buildings on a regular basis – just as car insurance companies insist that cars adhere to stringent and regularly updated safety standards, and after three years have to pass their annual MOTs.

The result will be that, just as with car drivers, policyholders who practice good fire safety and those with good fire safety installations and modifications will benefit from much lower premiums. In this way good fire safety will start to save money.

There are those who will say all this is going to cost a lot of money, which of course it will, initially. Good fire safety costs money, but if it is ultimately the responsibility of the fire insurance industry it will not only become self-policing on big buildings over a certain size, it will also be an investment for the future of those buildings and in the safety of their users and occupants. What’s more, if we are so unfortunate as to see another big fire tragedy then the affected insurance company will be obliged to lead in providing for the victims, ensuring that those who have lost their loved ones and/or their homes in the fire will never again be made to feel like beggars.