Grenfell cladding problem could be widespread in Israel

Experts have warned over poor implementation of fire-safety standards.


The tragic blaze in Grenfell Tower two weeks ago has put the spotlight on fire safety in tall blocks around the world.

In Israel, experts have warned that while the building standards dictate contractors must use cladding materials that have been certified by the national Standards Institution as non-flammable, the implementation of those standards is lacking.

The head of the fire safety department at the national fire-fighting commission, Haim Tamam, said in an interview with Haaretz that contractors must prove to local authorities that they have used only authorised, non-flammable materials before they can receive a certificate of occupancy, “but there are always liars, and residents should inspect themselves that the contractors haven’t used cheaper materials instead”.

Israeli building regulations have been beefed up over the last decade and, according to Yisrael David, head of the Building Engineers Union, “when a building is constructed at today’s standards, with the fire detectors and extinguishers properly maintained, a blaze like in London can’t happen”. The problem is with the older buildings.

The cladding issue is potentially widespread, as many large residential buildings built in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s for the large influx of Jewish immigrants have undergone major refurbishment in recent years, including the addition of materials to improve their appearance.

The fire-fighting commission has prevented some external renovations from going ahead as some of the towers are in narrow streets where a fire engine would have trouble operating efficiently in an emergency. In other cases, they authorised the projects only when a second staircase was added to the building to make an evacuation easier.

In June 2016, a similar blaze to the one in Grenfell Tower broke out in a 13-floor residential building in Ramat Gan, next to Tel Aviv. The residents were evacuated from the roof by fire-brigade ladders and only one woman was lightly wounded. However, fire-fighters warned that in a blaze above 15 floors, evacuation would be much more difficult.

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