Risk perceptions

Not directly climate, and risks being somewhat tasteless, but I'll have a go anyway. Two things come past: Light Blue Touchpaper (which is a lovely pun) discusses Camouflage or scary monsters: deceiving others about risk and ends with1 it might be time for a more careful cross-disciplinary study of how we can change people’s minds about risk in the presence of smart and persistent adversaries. We know, for example, that a college education makes people much less susceptible to propaganda and marketing; but what is the science behind designing interventions that are quicker and cheaper in specific circumstances? This will resonate with those involved in the GW debate.

And the other is the Grenfell Tower fire. From which I read things like In January 2016 GAG [Grenfell Action Grou] warned that people might be trapped in the building if a fire broke out, pointing out that the building had only one entrance and exit, and corridors that were allowed to fill with rubbish, such as old mattresses. GAG frequently cited other fires in tower blocks when it warned of the hazards at Grenfell.[26] In November 2016 GAG published online an article attacking KCTMO as an "evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia" and accusing the Borough Council of ignoring health and safety laws. GAG suggested that "only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of [KCTMO]". The group had also published articles criticising fire safety and maintenance practices at Grenfell Tower. To which the obvious response is: "if you thought you were going to die if you kept living there, why didn't you leave?" It's no good answering "because they were poor and couldn't afford anywhere else". Even poor people will leave a building on fire. But not one at risk of fire; even one at perceived high risk of fire. The connection to weighing risks from future GW should be obvious.


* Regulatory capture wonders LBT
* Experts warned government against cladding material used on Grenfell
* So, the Council inspected and yet it’s still neoliberalism to blame, eh?
* The aftershocks of Grenfell Tower and the future of austerity - Economist.

* M1, Weds
* M1, Thurs
* W1, Weds [Caius go head]
* W1, Thurs
* M2, Sidney / Pembroke2 rerow, Weds


1. Just "ends with". Its not a conclusion.

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@-"To which the obvious response is: “if you thought you were going to die if you kept living there, why didn’t you leave?”

Because there was no safer alternative.

[Untrue. There are many places in London that would clearly be safer. The reports claim that the inhabitants considered the building exceptionally risky, but they didn't leave, they choose to complain. That suggests to me that they didn't, somehow, really believe on a deep level their own words.

If you really believed there was a 50% chance of your house catching fire tonight, you would not sleep in it. Obviously. Ditto, for 10%. Probably ditto, for 1%. If you really believed that over the course of a year there was a 10% chance of your tower block catching fire in the middle of the night, would you stay? I suggest no -W]

The best, and lowest risk option was too stay in accommodation that at least exists and try and improve its management than become homeless or opt for private rental accommodation that is not financially viable on the wages/housing benefit paid in London, and probably no safer.

[Why do you say "probably no safer"? On what evidence? -W]

And with equally neglectful and rapacious landlords.

[Untrue. There are many places in London that would clearly be safer.

I'll turn that around. If it were true that safer, better alternatives are available, then clearly there would be no-one living in those towers.

[I don't think so; and that is rather the point of my post: that people misperceive risk. In fact, if you prefer having it "explained" on another level, try Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. There's a lot there and this is only a tiny bit of it, but if you haven't already read it, you want to. The relevant bit here: people are "happy" to fail, as long as they can fail conventionally. That is to say, no-one will blame you for burning to death in a tower block fire. It will definitely be someone else's fault. If, however, you see a 10% risk of the fire, and decide to save your life by leaving, and (let us say) become homeless; then people hearing your story *will* blame you for becoming homeless. A similar dissection of people's readiness to "fail conventionally" is somewhere on Dominic Cummings blog but I don't know exactly where -W]

So your alternative is being homeless? I'm pretty sure the risk to life of being homeless is higher than living in tower blocks.

[I think you're quasi-deliberately misunderstanding me. No, the alternative is not being homeless. Or at least, I rather doubt it. If anyone had suggested that these people should leave, I'm sure all of them could have found an excellent series of excuses for why it was impossible for them to leave. But they wouldn't have really meant impossible; they would have meant inconvenient, annoying, disruptive, with-short-term-negative-consequences, whatever. But, faced with a choice of certain death or those consequences, they would have left. But faced with a hard-to-quantify chance of death, they stayed. This is exactly analogous to most people's response to GW -W]

What are the actual odds of your house catching on fire tonight? Do you *know* -- or do you have to look it up? Most probabilities are unknown to the average person, so they simply don't have the information to even make a rational decision - and that's before we consider whether they have the skill set to do so if given the information.

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

[WMC: "To which the obvious response is: “if you thought you were going to die if you kept living there, why didn’t you leave?”]

Even if there is a fire then normally the vast majority of people escape death and serious injury. In normal times, individual people picture themselves escaping successfully and other people dying or being hurt. Though at the moment a higher proportion of tower block dwellers will be thinking about the awful situation of being trapped for hours before being consumed by fire.

[WMC Probably ditto, for 1%.]

There is probably no relationship between the percentage of your expectation of peril and the percentage of risk at which you become alarmist.

In climate change, a large proportion of scientists think there will be some climate change catastrophes but they don't spend a lot of time being alarmist.

[Yes; but "catastrophe" is vague, and who knows exactly who will suffer? Most people do what the people in this tower block did: assume that the warnings of "catastrophe" won't actually come to pass, or that if they do happen, they like the "vast majority of people" will somehow escape -W]

In the general population a small percentage of people will go out of their way to "offer up scary scenarios" (Schneider) to highlight even what they perceive as a very low probability risk to try and influence action.

[Yes, so again we're back to the dilemma: since the bulk of the populace don't really weigh risk well, in order to try to move them, you have to offer certainty-of-catastrophe. But if you try to do that, you're rather vulnerable to it being pointed out that there is no such certainty -W]

By Steve Milesworthy (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

I think I basically understand your point, and it may well be correct in terms of how people really think and act in relation to perceived risk i.e. irrationally.

However, in this specific case I'm not sure the rational response would be to leave. This isn't a choice between leaving and being safe versus staying and being at risk. If you leave you actually have to go somewhere else. Is this tower the worst of the worst or is it fairly typical of accommodation in this price bracket?

Obviously I'm over-analysing an analogy.

You're going a bit far here. They didn't think they were going to die, and you have not posted and can not post any quote from their blog to show that they did think they were going to die. They thought (it seems correctly) that they were at a greatly increased risk of death, and even more so of loss, due to fire.

[Yes, but you're mixing things up there. "They didn't think they were going to die" is precisely my point. They knew full well they were at risk of death, greater than if they were living elsewhere, and we know that they thought this because of stuff like I've quoted ("...GAG suggested that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of [KCTMO]”. The group had also published articles criticising fire safety and maintenance practices at Grenfell Tower..."). And yet somehow they parlayed the usual feeling that people have that they personally don't feel near death, into your "They didn't think they were going to die". This is also like the way people feel about different risks of death: high, but "under your control" (note the quotes) risks like car accidents get weighed far less than low but not-under-your-control, like terrorism -W]

They thought (IMO correctly) that their scumbag landlords didn't give a toss about this.

[Yeeeesss... but note the "The tower is managed by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the largest tenant management organisation (TMO) in England, on behalf of Kensington & Chelsea Council. The TMO has a board comprising eight residents, four Council-appointed members, and three independent members.[14]". Were the eight residents on the board also "scumbags"? -W]

I agree with your point about climate change.

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

Is this tower the worst of the worst or is it fairly typical of accommodation in this price bracket?

fairly typical - although what is a stark feature of this area (I know it very well as I was born there and still have a house there) is the disparity in living/wealth standards that coexists in such a small area

I suspect before the fire it was viewed as a pretty decent place to live - and was the subject of a recent refurbishment, which ironically seems to have been the problem

Yup - pretty tasteless. Do we expect the children who died to have calculated their death risk, and perhaps then have given a statistical presentation to persuade their parents to move?

[Nope. Law, convention and common sense says that parents are responsible for under-age children -W]

At the risk of the same accusation of tastelessness, Grenfell Tower may work better as an illustration of where, and why, deregulation does not work. For example, on external cladding flammability and the lack of requirement for internal sprinklers.

[But buildings *are* very heavily regulated. They are not "deregulated". This can just as easily be seen as a failure of the "regulate everything and all will be well" approach -W]

I once took a flight on Free Hand Airlines.

Unfortunately, the plane I was in crashed and burned, killing all on board - and some folks on the ground too.

Although I am now dead, at least I now realize that the plane was not very safe, and I will know better in the future.

Next time, I will of course be accompanied by my very own personal air-worthiness certification officer, and will know to get out of the plane part way through the flight if she finds any high-risk problems.

[I was I looking to fly, and discovered that the cheapest flight was on Russian airlines, I wouldn't take it. I'd pay more money to avoid their reputation. Do you think that commercial airlines have a worse safety record than govt run? -W]

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

"... corridors that were allowed to fill with rubbish, such as old mattresses."

Oh, those naughty, _naughty_ corridors. And who exactly allowed the corridors to become filled with such crap?

Yeah, yeah, those of us who habitually clean up other people's discarded crap know the world is full of litterbugs.

Dog exhaust or dead car batteries, for example.
And of course skanky mattresses.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

Not all commercial airlines are the same.

Not all governments and government controlled airlines are the same.




Air New Zealand history points out the advantage of the flight engineer having a bottle of duty-free whisky in hand.

[Belated reply (I think I wrote this before and it got lost): yes, I agree. That was part of my point. It makes blames free enterprise air obviously wrong -W]

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

#9 [This can just as easily be seen as a failure of the “regulate everything and all will be well” approach -W]

There was no appropriate regulation for external cladding flammability or any requirement for internal sprinklers. It does appear if appropriate regulation on these aspects of building regulations had been applied it would have very likely prevented deaths.

Is that what you mean by the “regulate everything and all will be well" comment?

[Yup. Your comment is typical of why Hillary lost; or at least, a part of it. Because for "the regulators" the answer to every question is always "more regulation". No matter how much there is, the answer is always that there should be more. No other possibility exists, or can be allowed to be thought of -W]

And Qantas, which had the last fatal accident in 1951.

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

#13 I think that was agreement over the need for regulation of external cladding flammability and sprinklers. Yup?

We have already agreed that there is too much regulation/law is overly complex in many areas. But in this particular instance, we are also in agreement that building regulations are the best answer to preventing these type of fire deaths too.

Oh my.

[Why would you think we are agreed on this point? It seems to me that we disagree strongly -W]

Hank Roberts: 'Yeah, yeah, those of us who habitually clean up other people’s discarded crap know the world is full of litterbugs.'

A week or two ago I pulled over to clear up KFC boxes that some wanker had chucked out of his car window onto a picturesque rural A-Road and while I was doing that picked up some older litter from the verge. This turned out to be mostly disposable latex and plastic gloves of the sort worn by mass murderers, dentists and others of that ilk, a glove or two every few feet for about 100 yards, which was as far as I walked, so the entire verge might be one long glove cemetery, for all I know. They were in several different colours and some looked older than others, suggesting that they weren't all dumped there at once. I picked up a few but then thought they might be unclean in some unspeakable way, so mostly let them be.

What the hell is that all about? Is chucking creepy surgical gloves out of car windows a thing among the young folk these days, like that brief fad for chucking tied-together trainers over telephone wires?

Re the Grenfell Tower tragedy, here's a Web page that KCTMO removed from its website on Wednesday:


I don't know what they want to hide, unless it's that they can't spell. Or perhaps it's the bit about the corridors being partly blocked with new heating equipment.

By Vinny Burgoo (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

@-"Why do you say “probably no safer”? On what evidence? -W"

My search-engin wu has been unable to find definitive data, but deaths from fires in the met fire district have fallen sharply in the last few decades. They are now around 3.5 persons per million. Say 30 a year. Although the London occupation is 50/50 owned/rented the majority of deaths are in private rented accommodation with tower blocks under-represented.
Previous flat fires in this block and other like it have NOT spread beyond the flat it started in.

Blaming the residents for staying because they prefer 'conventionality' rather than making a valid risk assessment along with attempts to improve their situation would seem to fall into the 'Let them eat Cake' category.

[I didn't blame the residents. You're reading things I didn't say. What I actually said is that this is what people do. I *do* blame people with perfect hindsight for saying "obviously, should have been done". I find the observation that people are "happy" to fail conventionally interesting. I suspect it can also be useful -W]

{... Do you think that commercial airlines have a worse safety record than govt run? -W]

I don't know - And that's sort of my whole point.

We could possibly make rational decisions based on risks IFF we know all the risks. But this hardly ever the case.

Basic safety standards, if actually applied, mean that the average airline passenger doesn't need a degrees in mechanical engineering and fluid dynamics.

You only get to die in an apartment fire or airplane crash but once. So the knowledge one gains from the experience is hardly going to inform your Bayesian prior for future choices.

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

The Coroner's verdict could be Death By Efficiency,
The KCTMO doc linked confesses to permanent corridor constriction by new heating units ". The radiators are double convector type this enables the surface temperature of the radiator to be lower and therefore more energy efficient.

And kitchen exhaust fans creating negative preuusure relative to corrridor fires..

Did you catch the story at

Clever -- your building company (left hand) goes bankrupt. Your _other_ building company (right hand) buys out the bankrupt company cheap and unencumbered and goes on rehabbing towers with cheap materials.


Is this a "shake off the debts and keep going" business tactic that's not illegal? Ah, the wonders of corporate law ....

[Limited liability. Universally recognised as one of the cornerstones of economic prosperity; because the alternatives are so much worse -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

Cladding on deadly tower block was carried out by Harley Facades Ltd for £2.6m
Harley Curtain Wall reportedly went bust in 2015 owing creditors £1million
But it was bought by Harley Facades Ltd, Mr Bailey's other firm who did Grenfell

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

from the same page:

Fire inside the new cladding panels.

This material has been widely used and once installed is readily accessible temptation for a firebug. I'd sure like to see the risk/benefit calculation that led manufacturers to choose flammable plastic rather than the less flammable rock wool material in the more expensive alternative cladding.

Make it cheaper, sell it cheaper, buy more liability insurance?

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

Most TMOs are basically arms-length fictions: landlords exert a great deal of effective control. The tenants on a TMO may be well-meaning and ineffectual, or self-serving, or corrupt quislings, but in any case TMOs do very badly at representing the interests of tenants and very well at representing the interests of landlords. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that KCTMO is indeed an “evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia”. Ask Francis Davey (I think you know him on FB) who is an expert on housing law.
Given that you are (a) opposed to regulations requiring sprinklers or fire-retardant materials in cladding panels, and (b) recognising that residents are poor at estimating and/or responding to risk (by, for instance, finding somewhere else to live), do you think there are any effective means for reducing the fire risks in low-cost high-rise residential buildings? If so, what are they?

[(a) No, I haven't said that. All I've done is oppose the knee-jerk "more regulation is always the answer" response. Asking me for a better response is the obvious question, and you do it. I doubt there is an easy answer, or it would have been done -W]

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

Do you believe there should be any government regulation of buildings, or of tenancy agreements? If so, how would you distinguish between good and bad regulation?

[Building regs as a whole I think are overdone, though I say that without a great deal of experience or thought. So rather than having ideas about specific regulations, I'd say my desired direction of travel would be towards less rather than more (we are so far away from my ideal that there is no point worrying about it). I can't answer the good vs bad question, since I don't have enough examples to hand. The silly one about insisting on spacers underneath stairs is bad, if you want an example -W]

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

We all take risks every day, because that's what life is - risky. Balancing those risks is difficult, and every choice involves another complex of difficult to evaluate risks. If you think the UK is badly managed - and clearly you do - why do you live there?

[For a whole variety of reasons. Although (at this moment) I have free movement within the EU, in practice language issues restrict this; and so does schooling of my infants, and my partners job. I have, however, reminded myself to remind my infants that they shouldn't assume they should live in the UK, and should actively think about where they want to live -W]

As for me, I always feel that I am risking my sanity every time I attempt to intellectually engage with a libertarian. So why do I do it? Because life is short and (should it ever happen) there would be more joy in heaven over the redemption of one libertarian than over all those who never thus sinned.

[Ah, glasshopper, keep fighting the good fight -W]

I mistook your comments above (hmm, #9 and #13?) as opposition to "regulations requiring sprinklers or fire-retardant materials in cladding panels" (approximately).

[Not an unreasonable mistake to make, but no: I was speaking in more general terms about the "regulate everything mentality". I've tried to make the point re Hillary several times but it just bounces off people on the Left; it's like they're unable to read it -W]

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

I don't know which "spacers under stairs" regulation you mean. Can you point to it? It's probably somewhere in section K (1.8, perhaps??), or maybe there's a reference to it here: https://www.tkstairs.com/information-help/building-regulations/domestic…

[We have stairs-without-risers (if that's the right word). So the steps have to have silly little wire bits so that the gaps in between them wouldn't let a baby's head fall through. Or somesuch -W]

They say that building regulations are written in blood.

[Sure. But people will say anything. They also say that hard cases make bad law. After happens people have a tendency to try to stop future occurrences of by prohibiting specific pathways to . After a number of s happen, you end up clogged. If this were code, you'd have no trouble recognising a bad pattern, and look for more general ways to avoid the problems in the first place -W]

I think in the case of staircases it's mostly the blood of people who died falling down or through stairs, or failing to escape from a fire up or down them, or because an emergency worker wasn't able to get up or down stairs to them. Stairs are dangerous places.

[So ban stairs. No, let's not. Let's recognise that stairs can indeed be dangerous -W]

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

Hank writes:

[on bankruptcy] Is this a “shake off the debts and keep going” business tactic that’s not illegal?

Make it cheaper, sell it cheaper, buy more liability insurance?

The first approach avoids the need for liability insurance in the second. Real story: in a former city, my neighbour ran the electronic systems that controlled the HVAC systems in all the campus buildings at the local U. Provincial law was introduced that required all contracts to go to the lowest bidder - no other criteria (such as quality or experience) allowed. When Ron's group went to connect the electronics to all the new valves in a newly-constructed building, they found half of them installed backwards. Problem corrected at great cost (more than the initial contract to install them). Repercussions to the original contractor? None. The numbered company set up for the job had ceased to exist.

[And the fundamental problem? The govt passing bad laws -W]

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

OK. I grew up in a house with stairs with open risers, before that guideline (1.9b: it's a 100mm sphere). I note that one does sometimes encounter more open risers in newish buildings, including in non-dwellings where all open risers are against the guidelines (1.6). This is because the actual requirement (K1) is "Stairs, ladders and ramps shall be so designed, constructed and installed as to be safe for people moving between different levels in or about the building." and builders can meet this requirement in any damn way they choose, but they have to convince an inspector that they meet the requirement and the reliable way to do this is to follow the guidelines (and use standard materials and designs).
Basically, you'd be happier in a country that was more dangerous if it were also more free. I'm more-or-less happy with a freedom/risk balance about where it was in the 1980s or 1990s. I'm very unhappy about the current deregulatory regime which measures every regulation solely on the "burden to business", and demands that this monotonically reduce, without regard to *any* potential value that a regulation might provide. There's a blog post here about that, which I like and you will not: https://www.christineberry.net/2017/06/after-grenfell-ending-the-murder…

[You're right, I don't like it (I didn't get far). I also don't like people making political capital out of this -W]

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

(by the way, thanks for the Carter).

[I do have a heart. It's just not in control -W]

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

Re political capital, do you mean Christine Berry? If one has been campaigning about something for some years, on the grounds of public safety, rejected implacably at every turn by a government for ideological (and deeply illogical) reasons, and then something ghastly happens which (at least in part, and in one's own doubtless partial view) can be attributed to that exact subject, then I don't think that writing angrily about it is "making political capital".
For some time before the disaster at Aberfan, people had been warning about the instability of the tip and others like it. They were fobbed off, and told that they were irresponsible fear-mongers. After the disaster, when they very angrily complained about this, were they making political capital?
Or maybe you mean the other politicking going on? I'm not paying much attention, except to note that May's already striking tone-deafness is becoming more extraordinary every day.

[I don't know CB. But it all seems the same desperately one-sided. Speaking of which, I see the Hillary stuff bounced off, yet again. I won't defend TM, obvs. But to be specific, since I followed as far as http://neweconomics.org/2015/10/threat-to-democracy/, I think most workers security-of-tenure protections should be repealed. Because they are harmful -W]

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

WC writes: "[I think most workers security-of-tenure protections should be repealed. Because they are harmful -W]"

Harmful to whom?

[To workers, and to would-be workers -W]

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

WC (inline): [And the fundamental problem? The govt passing bad laws -W]

Yes. In this case, driven by the mantra that govt (in this case proxied by a publicly-funded U) can't be trusted to use judgement, and anything they do is bad, so we'll force them to take the lowest bid so we can get govt out of the way of business. This was a "fix" brought in by a strongly right-wing, pro-business, reduce-spending govt. Worked out really well.

[So why blame private enterprise, when the problem is govt? -W]

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

The Hillary comment is just wrong, except insofar as it relates to an intentionally vague opposition to regulatory over-reach by big government, intentional because when given a choice Americans generally like regulations that improve health and safety. You can see that dynamic at work in developing Congressional opposition to Trump's proposed EPA cuts.

[I disagree; I think regulatory overreach, for which Hillary is effectively a poster-child, was a factor in the last election; and that it is regrettable that the Left won't even accept that it exists. I don't think the opposition is "intentionally" vague; but there is such a mass of regulation that it isn't really possible to be specific, without falling instead into the trap of opposing too narrow a part of the problem. As to liking regs, yes, people generally will go for <thing>, if <thing> is presented only with its specific positives, and will ignore its wider, diffuse, negatives. Just in the way that people tend to favour protectionism, even though it is stupid -W]

I notice the Germans were willing to stagger beneath the burden of banning that nasty flammable cladding. More fool them, clearly.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 16 Jun 2017 #permalink

So certainly I, with my 40+ years of US political experience, must bow to your incisive analysis from across the pond. Or I can just say you're quite wrong once again.

[Nope; you're under no obligation to bow to my views; or I to yours -W]

This last election did have a big element of push-back against "Big Government," but that's mainly about spending, not regulation. The Republican Party apparatus certainly is anti-regulation, but they were smart enough to not feature that in their campaign. Note survey results showing the EPA, probably the most-demonized federal regulatory agency, to be pretty popular.

[Yes, I agree. Regrettably so. But I'm not under any obligation to agree that popular == good or sensible -W]

See also these results, although they're a little old. Regulations that protect public health/safety and the environment are just plain popular, even in the abstract.

Yes, there's the wrinkle that many such regulations are on business, but note the differences in views of different business sectors.

Just to note, while that experience is in environmental politics in California and so not terribly representative of much of the rest of the US, I do pay close attention to what's happening elsewhere, and FWIW born and raised in what is now Trump country.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

@-" I find the observation that people are “happy” to fail conventionally interesting. I suspect it can also be useful -W"

That compliance with social expectation is a strong motivation and sometimes less than optimal strikes me as banal. I think your suspicion is misplaced.

"[So why blame private enterprise, when the problem is govt? -W]"

I am amazed at how you convert the action of "getting government out of the way of business" into "the problem is government". It seems that in your world view problems caused by more government regulation are a failure of government, while problems caused by less government regulation are also a failure of government. Everything is a failure of government. If this is a caricature of your position, perhaps it would help if you gave a clear indication of how you would decide if a government regulation is positive or negative?

[You put forward an example of poor results because of poorly written law. It was your chosen example, but you seemed to have drawn the wrong conclusions from it, so I pointed you to the correct conclusion, from that example. You can if you choose put forward a better example -W]

The specific example I gave was one where the whole idea was to reduce government influence - to give private enterprise more freedom to do what it wants to do. In tendering contracts, the U no longer had the option to consider experience, reliability, previous performance, etc. A complex procurement process (more rules) had been replaced with a simpler one (a single rule). The new regulations tied the hands of the public enterprise (the university), while freeing the hands of private enterprise.

[Err, no. You've misunderstood your own example. The law "you must chose the lowest bidder" replaced "the means of choice is up to you" with a new regulation. It removed choice, and replaced it with regulation. And this caused a problem. Perhaps the well-meaning people who put it in place intended to make people's lives simpler, as you suggest, but they failed. It would have been better had they never written the law. Unfortunately, there is a bias, as shown in this case, in "doing something" -W]

In this case, what private enterprise wanted to do was to hide behind the government-created limited liability of corporations. You do remember that corporations exist solely because the rule of law (i.e. government) has established a set of regulations that allows people to run businesses in a fashion where the people running the business are no longer personally responsible for the actions of the business?

Is allowing people to set up fly-by-night corporations so that they can do a crappy job and avoid the consequences because the corporation is closed - thus nothing left for anyone to sue - also a problem of government? Is the solution to place additional controls on private enterprise, or eliminate the legal entity of corporations altogether? Or something in between

[Limited liability is universally recognised as a good idea. Which is why everyone has it. This is, I think, a useful example of where Law is good; because in the absence of limited liability law, enterprise is rather harder, due to personal liability -W]

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

There is rat-shit in your bread. Literally. It's not placed there intentionally and it's really small amounts, but there it is nevertheless. Of course there are also dead insects, spiders, herbicide residues, pesticide residues, fungicides and plain old dirt.

The FDA's Defects Level Handbook provides the grisly limits for "adulterated" foods.

What WC *always* neglects is that there is often an economic incentive to *increase* the amount of defects or at least no economic incentive to decrease the defects without regulation.

And without regulation there is additional economic uncertainty as to whether level X will be acceptable as a reasonable threshhold in a court of law. *Any* level could put a business at risk given the wrong judge and jury, but regulations and meeting those regulations provide a strong starting point for any legal defense.

As with most of these naive libertarian ideas the implementation would result in untold tens of thousands of additional lawsuits with all the varied outcomes possible given roughly the same circumstances and evidence. Businesses would be screaming for the gov't to step in and do something - like provide a reasonable threshhold for the amount of defects.

[Indeed. So in cases where both biznes and customers want regulation, there's no great objection to it. But that covers only a tiny minority of regulation; you ignore the rest -W]

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

@- Regulation; harmful to whom?
To workers, and to would-be workers -W

This assertion would carry more weight if a practical example, historical or extant, of the advantages to workers of governance with less regulation.

The only one I can think of is where there is no regulation of the unionisation or organisation of labour to increase their bargaining power with employers.
But such libertarian policy seems rare..

[The obvious problem with heavy employment regulation is the difficulty of sacking people leads to companies being reluctant to hire people. It is odd that you are unaware of this. France suffers from it, for an obvious example. But the UK does, too. More people would have a chance to work, if it were easy to get rid of them if desired -W]

izen - there are plenty of counter examples, though. The US has a split between "right to work" states and those that afford some union/worker protections. The economics shows that "right to work" is just another way of saying right to work for lower wages, poor insurance, and lower benefits.

Odd that these states also show a correlation with poorer economic growth and poverty in general. OK, not so odd unless you actually believe in that libertarian claptrap.

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

WC writes: " But that covers only a tiny minority of regulation; you ignore the rest "

And where exactly did your source for this math come from? I'd like to know what percent was spurred by business and what percent wasn't myself, but you don't provide any references.

[Nor do you. But I thought you were pushing the view that the de-regulatory push came from bizness. That must imply that there is a weight of regulation that bizniss does not agree on -W]

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

As I'm sure you've heard, the flammable cladding used on the Grenfell tower is banned in the US and Germany, precisely because of the risk of things like this.

For some reason, the comments in this thread seem to consist of a bunch of people saying "Reasonable regulations are good" followed by WMC saying "too much regulation is bad and you lefties don't get it".

Also a bunch of oddly out-of-place references to HRC which looks like William trying to pick a fight but no one is taking the bait.

Strange way to respond to a tragic fire but YMMV I guess.

I make no claim that most, many or all regulations are preferred by business. I do suspect it's a lot higher than rabid deregulators believe. If you're in the business of putting out a quality product or service, then regulations that force competitors to make those same economic investments are welcome. Otherwise you're constantly at risk of losing customers to low quality work achieved by cutting corners.

Of course in many cases regulations are setup specifically to prevent business from pulling the old bait-and-switch. That's always been one of the root problems of markets known even to Adam Smith: markets are amoral. Profit is their incentive, not social well-being. This is not a feature - it's a nasty bug.

The US Army regulations on many products are a case in point as shown by Eli. Your solution "go back the supplier and tell them to stop taking this piss." was/is a non-solution. It kind of assumes the supplier is simply going to say, "OK, you caught me trying to cheat, I'll be good now." when the supplier is more likely to either ignore the purchasing officer or simply say, 'F u".

There is also a class of regulations put into place to specifically profit specific businesses. I would call these political boondoggles the worst regulations, but obviously there is at least one business - the one that's profiting from it - that would be diametrically opposed to its removal.

What I find disturbing through most of these discussions is that you put so much weight on your ideological gut-feelings or intuition. Yet time and again actual data shows that intuition to be incorrect; whether it be hairdresser regulations, economic stimulus versus austerity, minimum wage increases, or worker protections. Isn't this pretty much the problem we see with the alt-fact, alt-right political movement?

[I agree that you and I disagree on what the "actual data" shows -W]

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

WC: "It was your chosen example, but you seemed to have drawn the wrong conclusions from it"

The example was specifically chosen to illustrate an unethical business taking advantage of a poorly-written law. You seem to have forgotten or ignored the role that private enterprise played - the only thing you saw was "government mistake". It was chosen to illustrate how blind application of the attitude of "bidnes gud, gummint bad" can fail. When government is forced to be ethical and business isn't, government loses. Government should be ethical - and some form of regulation is needed try to keep business ethical.

WC: "Err, no. You’ve misunderstood your own example. The law “you must chose the lowest bidder” replaced “the means of choice is up to you” with a new regulation."

Now you're just making things up. The previous regulation was certainly not an unfettered "the means of choice is up to you". The previous regulation was a myriad of rules covering "this is how you can rate desirable features", "that is how you can rate previous experience", "there is where you can favour certain characteristics". The change was the result of a devotion to a "less regulation is better", and that is a demonstrably false assumption in this case. Their goal was to remove regulation. A more complex regulation was replaced with a simpler one that failed to guard against what the previous regulation was designed to protect against.

I am beginning to wonder how much experience you have in the purchasing side of government. Before anything goes out to bid, there is a huge amount of review to make sure that the department making the purchase isn't going to just make up its own rules on how it chooses. If I am only spending $100, then I can just go to any store and pick up what I want. $10,000? I can get three bids from whoever I choose, and pick one (usually lowest cost). $100,000? Pretty much has to go to open bidding - and part of that is to comply with trade agreements that allow people from other countries to bid. Yes, the ideal of free trade amongst countries actually makes government purchasing more complex. And many of the complex procedures are designed to prevent government from screwing over business, just as much as the other way around. A huge amount of the process is to prevent lawsuits - the allowable approaches are strongly the result of "if you do that, you'll end up in court. Here's the case law." In private business you can hire your incompetent son-in-law and buy overpriced goods from your best friend. In government, you can't (or at least, it's a lot harder).

I am glad you agree that limited liability is generally a good thing. The example I gave was one where an unethical business took advantage of a bad law and turned into a case of "no liability". And the bad law was the result of a devotion to "less regulation is better" with no consideration of the actual utility of the regulation.

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

"[Yes, I agree. Regrettably so. But I’m not under any obligation to agree that popular == good or sensible -W]"

Just for the record remember you were trying to apply this to the presidential election, which like it or not is very much about popularity.

And of course your portrayal of HRC (for whom I didn't vote BTW) as the candidate of regulation was just a straw man. For sure she's more pro-regulation than Trump, but in a US context not especially so. Just consider the financial sector.

Finally, do you think climate can be dealt with without lots and lots of regulation? If not, do you abandon your principles just because it's an existential threat?

[Yes; see Carbon Tax Now and follow-ups -W]

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

WC - The most comprehensive and recent studies I've seen on the Minimum Wage all show the same thing; little or no discernible effect on unemployment. Do you have recent studies that show otherwise?

For instance, Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?, Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2013:

"The employment effect of the minimum wage is one of the most studied topics in all of economics. This report examines the most recent wave of this research – roughly since 2000 – to determine the best current estimates of the impact of increases in the minimum wage on the employment prospects of low-wage workers. The weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage."

[This is kinda like the ID folk quibbling natural selection. For replies, see stuff like https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2017/06/01/as-dean-baker-at-th… or https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/09/01/the-absurdity-of-a-…. The key point you're omitting from the study you cite, and which it carefully avoids putting in its headline, is "evidence points to little or no employment
response to modest increases in the minimum wage... the relatively small cost to employers of modest increases in the minimum wage" -W]

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

The most comprehensive study of licensure I've come across is The New Closed Shop? The Economic and Structural Effects of Occupational Licensure, Beth Redbird, Assistant5 Professor Northwestern University, 2017 https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122417706463

Prof. Redbird's study finds the opposite effects on wages and labor supply than those so often cited by libertarians. Methodologically I haven't seen anything close to her work. I would ask her for a copy or Sci Hub it.

The two takeaway findings:
[Page 12] "Pooled across all years, 1983 to 2012, the mean effect of licensure is a 0.94 percent wage decrease (coef. .9906; s.e. .0019; p ≤ .001). The median weekly wage of a licensed worker in the sample is $815.86, so the license penalty measured here amounts to approximately –$7.67 dollars weekly, or only about –$383.45 yearly. Overall, there is no substantive wage effect of licensure."

[Page 14] "Figure 2 shows results from the longitudinal multilevel model, comparing current labor supply to supply at the time of enactment, as percent change, net trends in unlicensed occupations. Surprisingly, Figure 2 shows the opposite of a scarcity effect. The supply of labor increases dramatically in the years following enactment, reaching over 7 percent more than original levels. This suggests that not only is there no scarcity of supply, but in fact, licensure increases labor supply."

I would be interested to see any study done with this level of methodological rigor on the subject. It's a far cry from the superficial analyses put out by Cato, Heritage, Reason, et al.

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

Anyone that doesn't know that the data clearly shows austerity was a doomed economic policy following the recent financial crisis hasn't been paying attention. The head of the IMF went so far as to issue an apology for their austerity recommendations. He also did the math: Growth Forecast Errors and Fiscal Multipliers, Leigh & Blanchard, 2013

"We find that, in advanced economies, stronger planned fiscal consolidation has been associated with lower growth than expected, with the relation being particularly strong, both statistically and economically, early in the crisis. A natural interpretation is that fiscal multipliers were substantially higher than implicitly assumed by forecasters. "

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 17 Jun 2017 #permalink

Is William a Brownback supporter?

[Who? -W]

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 18 Jun 2017 #permalink

@-"The obvious problem with heavy employment regulation is the difficulty of sacking people leads to companies being reluctant to hire people. It is odd that you are unaware of this. France suffers from it, for an obvious example."

'Suffers' seems to be a relative term in this case.
I do have some familiarity with working in France and you are right that employment legislation inhibits COMPANIES from hiring salaried workers. This may indeed lead to a slightly higher unemployment rate. But unlike otther Countries this does not appear to lead to higher general levels of poverty or skewed income distribution. To quote a inherently biased French view -
"Another reason might be that the social system is protective enough to avoid to the people to accept soem sorts of jobs. I know that some people abuse the sytem but I am very proud that we do not oblige people to accepte the unacceptable."

Such government regulation also promotes higher productivity. France has out-performed the UK by ~10%. Perhaps that is worth the extra 3% youth unemployment if the social cost can be minimised and the benefits to existing workers maximised.

[Try telling that to the unemployed youth in the Banlieu -W]

Re: "If you really believed there was a 50% chance of your house catching fire tonight, you would not sleep in it. Obviously. Ditto, for 10%. Probably ditto, for 1%. If you really believed that over the course of a year there was a 10% chance of your tower block catching fire in the middle of the night, would you stay? I suggest no".
I am a moderately comfortable middle-class person leading a moderately comfortable middle-class life. But there have been times during that life when I would have accepted a 10% risk of burning to death in exchange for an otherwise safe space to sleep for one night.

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 18 Jun 2017 #permalink

(but that's probably way off topic. feel free to delete that comment and this).

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 18 Jun 2017 #permalink

WC - again, where's the data? Worstall's piece has zero data on the effect of minimum wage increases. We've seen numerous localities increase the minimum wage in the US recently - none of them show significant effects on employment. Some are even showing *increases* in employment after the minimum wage increase.

BTW, here's what Dean Baker actually says about the minimum wage in the article TW cites: " I say that the losses would be limited for moderate increases based on a lot of evidence. For larger increases, I would be worried." You have to read down into the comments to find him saying anything about increasing the minimum wage.

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 18 Jun 2017 #permalink

Sometimes it seems he is backed like one.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 18 Jun 2017 #permalink

A plausible guess at this stage is that cavity behind the cladding was not fitted with functioning fire barriers, as it should have been.

It that turns out to be the case, a near certain guess is that it will not be possible to recover from the company responsible more than a tiny fraction of the costs.

So here's a proposal: we make a legal requirement that a construction company be contractually required to purchase indemnity insurance for its work, lasting for say 30 years (that period could be reduced for temporary structures). The insurance to be structured in such a way that coverage continues even if the construction company ceases to exist (probably by paying for the whole period of cover in advance).

That way, the construction company has the appropriate financial incentive to do things right.


That would probably require the insurance companies to do a lot of work to assign suitable rates. - if they want the business at all. It could become a case where large long-established companies could get affordable insurance, and start-ups could not, thus preserving a protective barrier to new competition in the industry. A regulation that reduces competition, instead of increasing quality. Or government would be lobbied to provide low-cost insurance, bringing the cost of bad contractors back onto the tax-payers.

And I also fear that any claim on the insurance would be defended by the answer "the construction met all applicable building codes". This brings us right back to the question of how comprehensive building codes need to be.

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 18 Jun 2017 #permalink

Certainly it would cost money to find out whether the work had been done right. But we want someone to find out just that, and we should be willing to pay what it costs.

If insurance companies think a well established business is less likely to mess up than a start-up, and are willing to back that view with their money, why should we think they're wrong?

[There is some merit to your idea. How does it interact with the current scheme, which is that the building inspectorate are supposed to inspect work-in-progress, to make sure it's up to scratch? You're saying the "cavity behind the cladding was not fitted with functioning fire barriers"; that should have been caught. So the insurance really is a backstop, to catch sloppy inspection, and things that couldn't have been inspected? -W]

Such opposition to building standards! It's not novel bureaucracy; standards go back to medieval times, and I recall applications for building regulation approval being made to the Dean of Guild court.

[That's facile. Standards go way back, but the current intrusive level don't. No-one in medieval times insisted on my having silly hoop things between my stairs - see above, conversation with Nick Barnes -W]

What's novel is ideological opposition to standards with a mantra of "lifting the burden on business", when regulated standards actually make it easier to have fair competition. In recent years, Conservative ministers "have prioritised the need to save money and deregulate", and the issue goes back to "to changes in building regulations in 1986, which allowed blocks in London to be built and refurbished with materials on their exteriors that have almost no fire-resistant qualities at all."

[Tying the push to deregulate to building standards is odd; since that's only a minor part. Saying that the current, apparently failed, regulations are somehow vital is also odd -W]

A lot of questions to be answered; the flames seem to have come from a thin rain-screen sheeting of aluminium faced polyethylene, which made little difference to the insulating qualities. The insulation behind that screen was apparently fire-retardent grade, and press photos show it charred but intact, so it may have worked as intended.

The work seems to have been a "design and build" contract, leaving design was in the hands of the tenderer, and no supervision of the subcontractor who promptly went bankrupt and continued under a new name. Was the polyethylene core specified by the tenderer?

The building regulations notice procedure is a recent innovation to speed construction work by allowing the builder to avoid providing advance plans and specification to the authority, who then certified the cladding work as "Completed—not approved". Effectively removing any expert checking of the construction. A procedure intended for minor works, so the builder probably shouldn't have used it, and it's questionable if the council should have issued that certificate... lots of loose ends.

[Indeed. And it will be interesting to see the results of the investigation, if not so delayed that we've all forgotten about the case -W]

Given the obvious point that facades shouldn't easily go up in flames, it's a testament to unchecked incompetence or greed how often that's happened recently. Since there wasn't much loss of life, the issue didn't get much attention, and it's taken a tragedy to put some urgency into rethinking what needs to be done.

[Ah well, you finally turn us back to the actual subject of this post: risk perceptions. We're also very bad at ignoring warnings, which should be signs that our assessment of the level of danger is wrong -W]

[Adding: to continue my yet-more-regulation-is-not-the-answer theme, I'll refer you to Timmy who point out (quoting the Graun that the external envelope of a building should not provide a medium for fire spread so we're back to the govt recipe for chocolate cookies stuff that Eli was so keen on. From which some people take the lesson that We Always Need More Regulation, and others that we should actually enforce what we already have -W]

"There is rat-shit in your bread. Literally. It’s not placed there intentionally and it’s really small amounts, but there it is nevertheless."

Kevin ought to tell the man, the very fat man, who waters the workers beer, to stop adding so many remaindered copies of The Nation to his bakeries' sawdust feed.


Well, you could always have an insurance company that decides to insure high-risk companies at low cost, and then just declares bankruptcy if a big claim comes along. Of course, then someone might want to regulate the building construction insurance industry.

Then you might get a common set of rules that insurance companies have to follow with regard to what they insure and how things need to be built, and that starts to sound a lot like "building codes".

...and if someone needs to check to see if the work is done properly, that starts to sound a lot like "building inspectors".

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 18 Jun 2017 #permalink

Bob should consult the Code of Hammurabi , which though draconian, seems well designed to promote sound margins of safety,

I'm surprised EPA Administrator Pruitt has yet to request a Presidential edict limiting its internal communications to cuneiform hard copy.

I'm rather offended both by your apparent ideological rigidity and the rather callous victim blaming disregard of human life it seems to justify.

[Just saying "victim blaming" is mere sloganeering. What do you actually mean? See-also #17 -W]

Let me see if I can do better than senile sloganeering. Faced with unsafe living conditions, it may be more rational to complain about them than to move to another, no doubt also difficult to evaluate hazard.

[Maybe. But, and this is my point, maybe not. Maybe it would have been more rational to move. But people, generally, aren't rational to this degree -W]

People living in Grenfell tower were very unlikely to have had the alternative of living in Buckingham Palace.

Rather than attribute behavior when faced with hard to evaluate hazards to some mysterious lemminglike desire to fail conventionally, why not consider that 300,000 years of evolution have equipped us with the extremely useful instinct to respond to difficult challenges by appealing to collective action - for example, by public complaint.

[I think you push that idea too hard. There's something to it, but in this case I think the idea of behaving "conventionally" is stronger. There really are strong social constraints on most people's behaviour, and indeed there have to be -W]

WC: I find the observation that people are “happy” to fail conventionally interesting.


When we bought my brand new house my partner and I found a lot of snags. Most were comfort related. Several were safety related. One resulted in the builders refitting almost every internal door in the street because the fire protection had been installed wrongly.

At the time, my partner and I were criticised by some of our neighbours for damaging the "relationship" between the residents and the builders by being so picky! Later, they regretted not complaining more as the builders left and they suffered their draughty windows...

But we had to fight very hard for getting a lot of snags fixed. The easier ones were the ones relating to safety regulations. I'm not sure how you get rid of safety regulations while also preventing a large imbalance between corporate entities practiced at evading responsibility and individuals with busy and sometimes difficult other lives.

Having regulations in place helps fix the "convention" issue - of not complaining or making do. It also reduces the need of having to check all the stair cases in the land (as convention would demand such action) because of an unlucky week in which three babies including a minor celebs' baby, dies unnecessarily.

cf. flammable Hallowe'en costumes, perhaps.


[Yes, there is truth to this: "'elf and safety" as an issue that trumps all else is one way of looking at it. But it has downsides too. People whinge at me for having bare feet; and insist that for my own safety they must prevent me from doing X -W]

By Steve Milesworthy (not verified) on 19 Jun 2017 #permalink

re "[Tying the push to deregulate to building standards is odd; since that’s only a minor part. Saying that the current, apparently failed, regulations are somehow vital is also odd -W]"

It's a significant point made by someone with experience, in the context that "They seem to need a disaster to change regulations, rather than evidence and experience. It was the same with the King’s Cross fire and the Bradford City football club fire. They always seem to need a significant loss of life before things are changed", but at the same time Conservative ministers "have prioritised the need to save money and deregulate".

So, they won't strengthen regulations without loss of life, but have policies cutting regulations..
"‘One in, three out’ (OITO). This means that no government department can introduce a new law that imposes a cost to business unless it can find another law to repeal that cuts costs to business by at least three times that amount"

Six lives lost in 2009, but nothing changed to prevent repetition.
meanwhile business enjoyed reduced costs while skimping on fire safety...

Re [WC: Yes, there is truth to this: “‘elf and safety” as an issue that trumps all else is one way of looking at it. But it has downsides too. People whinge at me for having bare feet; and insist that for my own safety they must prevent me from doing]

The correct way to deal with inappropriate health and safety is to demand evidence and not to follow the Daily Fail practice of lumping all health and safety regulation in the same bucket. The HSE have a "myth-busting" section and would appear to agree with you:


"The [HSE] panel is not surprised that the customer was left hopping mad."

By Steve Milesworthy (not verified) on 19 Jun 2017 #permalink

"[There is some merit to your idea. How does it interact with the current scheme, which is that the building inspectorate are supposed to inspect work-in-progress, to make sure it’s up to scratch? You’re saying the 'cavity behind the cladding was not fitted with functioning fire barriers'; that should have been caught. So the insurance really is a backstop, to catch sloppy inspection, and things that couldn’t have been inspected?]"

It seems obvious that the cavity fire barriers didn't work as they should have: no doubt experts are busy working out why. The problem may have been in specification rather than construction, I don't know.

Whatever the exact causes, the building regulations have not been effective. One solution would be more detailed regulation, and more determined oversight, Another, which I'm suggesting, would be to create effective incentives for the private sector to make buildings safe.

[Agreed; that's an attractive idea -W]

You've written that residents can't have been that bothered about the safety of the building, or they would have moved out. My point is that no one in the council or the management company or the fire inspectorate or the building companies can have been that bothered either, or they would have done something about it. I want to make it so that someone with the power to get their way has enough at risk.

[It is generally good to align incentives, which hasn't really happened in this case; your proposal would move towards that -W]

Steve Milesworthy - Yes, it's a common trick of the busybody (public or private, busybodying is anequal-ops thing) - 'If I don't like you doing X, I will declare that X is not allowed because of Health and Safety, it's not like you can look up the rule book on the spot, and it sounds less subjective than 'because I say so''.

As far as this case goes.. a lack of specificity in the regulations combined with lax enforcement seems to be the problem. Those that regard regulations as burdensome are not disposed to enforce those regulations that do exist strongly.

You perhaps also need to have a look at the reality of social housing in the UK, what with the multi-year waits and 'take it or be chucked off the queue' approach. It's a bit like saying to someone raising concerns about global warming 'Why don't you just move to another planet?'.

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 19 Jun 2017 #permalink

re: "[Adding: to continue my yet-more-regulation-is-not-the-answer theme, I’ll refer you to Timmy who point out (quoting the Graun that the external envelope of a building should not provide a medium for fire spread so we’re back to the govt recipe for chocolate cookies stuff that Eli was so keen on. From which some people take the lesson that We Always Need More Regulation, and others that we should actually enforce what we already have -W]"

Timmy's argument is ludicrous: the Graun describes how the designers and builders failed to comply with the building regulation requirement that "the external envelope of a building should not provide a medium for fire spread", and other factors contributed to the death toll. Timmy jumps to:

"So, layer upon layer of intrusive regulation and government made this happen."

False as the regulations are not "layer upon layer", they have repeatedly been revised, tested, and reexamined in relation to experience, as well as getting watered down by dogma against regulation.
Ludicrous as, by Timmy's argument, regulations against murder make murders happen.

Dave S has come to the similar conclusion as me, so I will merely note his for emphasis. Failures of enforcement seem to be confused with failures of regulation often enough that such emphasis occasionally seems needed.

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 19 Jun 2017 #permalink

What would be the added benefit of “‘making [it] a legal requirement that a construction company be contractually required to purchase indemnity insurance for … say 30 years..”? Or similar private sector financial-incentive approach to enable state-based building regulations to be removed?

Given that the desired outcome is to not burn people in tower blocks – it seems complicated to try to cost in the life of each person, and the likelihood of death into the insurance premium. For example, the death part of the premium calculation would presumably have to take account of the likelihood of whether people can be rescued from the upper levels of the building. It also sounds complicated to apply it to building upgrades – like that recent one at Grenfell Tower.

It is rather hard to see how insurance companies would not need building firms to adhere to the appropriate, properly applied, requirements in almost exactly the same way that the state should. Requirements such as: functioning fire doors; no flammable materials; sufficient structural integrity to withstand individual apartment fires; sprinklers; no exposed gas pipes, and so on.

[You're missing the point of PB's proposal. Which is that in the current scheme, those charged with enforcing the regulations don't seem to be doing a very good job. So perhaps giving someone a financial stake in their enforcement would be a good idea -W]

I suppose it is possible to argue that insurance companies could be more reactive, and develop more effective building regulations over a shorter period; compared to the state they might react faster to encourage the adoption of better fire technology and more appropriate (less cheap perhaps?) materials? Or they could try to calculate whether sprinklers AND no flammable cladding AND no exposed gas pipes are required for a low enough premium – And to stop the burning. But. Still.. somehow, it seems not enough to go down this route.

[Ah. So, we must have more "regulation" but it must be strictly govt-type regulation? -W]

What we've had here is a disastrous failure of regulation. Before we decide that the answer is more regulations, we should at least work out why the existing regulations weren't enforced.

WC: "Which is that in the current scheme, those charged with enforcing the regulations don’t seem to be doing a very good job."

...and we're sure that cutting staff and resources to save money can't possibly be one source of the problem? People keep saying you can't solve a problem by throwing money at it, but it's pretty easy to make it worse by depriving it of the necessary resources.

Where I live, only a small fraction of residential buildings get an inspection of all the things that are supposed to be inspected during construction. Not enough inspectors.

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 19 Jun 2017 #permalink

PaulB: ...why the existing regulations weren’t enforced.

Well, that would get in the way of me making money in the building trades. It's cheaper for me to invest in politicians that promise to get government out of the way of business.

(I live in a large metropolitan area in North America, where local municipal politicians get nearly all of their campaign money from developers.)

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 19 Jun 2017 #permalink


"... We are convinced that the carbon dividends approach first put forward by one of us (Shultz) along with former secretary of state James A. Baker III a few months ago can strengthen the U.S. economy in ways highly valued by both the left and right and simultaneously spur global efforts to address climate change. Adopting a carbon dividend approach would pay huge dividends for the global climate, the U.S. economy and U.S. leadership in the world.

Our carbon dividend strategy has four interrelated elements that account for its strength: a gradually rising and revenue-neutral carbon tax; carbon dividend payments made equally to all Americans, to be funded using all the carbon-tax revenue; rollback of costly command-and-control regulations that were implemented because the environmental costs of carbon fuels have not been incorporated into their price; and border adjustment to ensure a level playing field and U.S. competitiveness.

A carbon tax set at $40 per ton would achieve substantially greater reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions than all of the regulation now on the table. The application of a border carbon adjustment that levied a tax on the carbon content of imported products would incent other countries to adopt carbon pricing, increasing its impact and preventing free-riders. So the carbon dividend approach is best for the environment.

It would also be best for economic growth, which explains why prominent companies are backing it...."

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 19 Jun 2017 #permalink

Cladding fires; overview in late 2016:
http://www.probyn-miers.com/perspective/2016/02/fire-risks-from-externa… "Unless something radical is done, such as national retro-fitting subsidy schemes, it seems inevitable that there will be further fires involving aluminium-faced polyethylene core panels"

Grenfell Tower built in 1974, [[Building Act 1984]] consolidated Regulations to brief statements of functional requirements, Approved Documents set out guidance, designer can meet the function in other ways.

Following overcladding system fire on 5 April 1991 at Knowsley Heights, Liverpool, revised Approved Document B Fire Safety (ADB) 1992, need for low spread of flame and firestopping in overcladding cavities. 11 June 1999, one death at fire in cladding of flats at Irvine,
Select committee 5 January 2000 "do not believe that it should take a serious fire in which many people are killed before all reasonable steps are taken towards minimising the risks.... all external cladding systems should be required either to be entirely non-combustible, or to be proven through full-scale testing not to pose an unacceptable level of risk in terms of fire spread."

2005 Blair's Better Regulation Taskforce calls for use of a Dutch approach to cutting red tape known as "one in, one out"

3 July 2009 14-storey tower block [[Lakanal House fire]], six die, one issue cladding panels burned through in four and a half minutes

Sept 2010 "Lord Young starts bonfire of red tape - Telegraph", January 2012 David Cameron vowed to "kill off the health and safety culture for good" to cut back red tape and "the health and safety monster"
Deregulation started in 2010 as ‘one in, one out’ to make savings to businesses.

Many UAE high rises have facade cladding with combustible thermoplastic [polyethylene] core between two sheets of aluminium; April 2012, 40-storey Al Tayer tower in Sharjah burns "like a Roman candle", similar fires at Tamweel Tower in Dubai in November 2012 and Al Hafeet Tower in Sharjah in April 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22346184

Grenfell Tower pre-refurbishment consultation in 2012

28 March 2013 inquests into 6 fire deaths at Lakanal House in Camberwell close. The coroner, Judge Frances Kirkham, wrote Eric Pickles, then communities secretary, asking for a complete revision of AD B and the provision of sprinklers in refurbishments. The government wrote to encourage local authorities to retrofit sprinkler systems in older tower blocks, but no funding.

16 July 2013, update re Grenfell Tower refurbishment estimate above budget. Tender subsequently won by Rydon, who subcontract cladding to Harley Facades Ltd.
June 2014 Grenfell Tower refurbishment work commenced, to be completed at the end of March 2016

3 March 2016 Sajid Javid tells British businesses "We became the first government in recent history to reduce overall levels of regulation. Between 2010 and 2015 we cut £10 billion of red tape. ... In the last Parliament we introduced a policy called ‘One in, two out’. It meant that every time a new regulation that cost money to comply with was introduced, the government had to remove or modify existing rules with double the cost to business. For every 1 pound of regulatory burden we created, 2 pounds worth had to be removed. Today I can announce that we’re upgrading that to ‘One in, three out."

19 June 2017 Sajid Javid said councils will be fully reimbursed for any building work carried out on tower blocks that could face a similar fire risk to that of Grenfell Tower .. Councils have been ordered to urgently carry out checks on the cladding ... to identify any use of aluminium composite material (ACM) [cladding] important that the right type is used

Regulation doesn't work because from the point of view of the industry it is "Heads I win, tails I draw".

A company will evade responsibility, because at most it only has to do what it would have done under the regulation. Those charged with enforcing regulation do not have the man power or the will power to fight every battle so there is a lot that the builder gets away with.

I think that when I fought and won an NHBC adjudication I should have been paid the substantial costs of my time and effort plus compensation for having a draughty house through winter.

By Steve Milesworthy (not verified) on 20 Jun 2017 #permalink

Since 2010 a third of environmental health officers have gone, .. The health and safety inspectorate is taking a 46% cut ... In the construction industry inspection rates are falling fast. Just in the year 2015/16, in the south-east where the skyline is thick with cranes, inspections fell by 26%."

but not to worry, builders can now self-certify they've done it right. As at Grenfell, where they didn't have to provide plans to the local authority, and after completing the cladding got the LA to certify it as “Completed—not approved”. No inspections needed!
With an expert subcontractor putting up the cladding, what could go wrong?

Good Guardian summary there with many pointers to prior examples of the core problem.

Sounds like a lot more firetraps exist out there.

"... Grenfell Tower's £10m makeover saw it encased in aluminium composite panels that have a synthetic core and are manufactured by a subsidiary of a US firm, Arconic. Some of the more expensive cores are more fire resistant but Grenfell was fitted with a cheaper version, banned in the US for taller buildings because of safety concerns. Some estimates suggest that the additional cost of fitting the fire-resistant product would have been as little as £5,000.

Rydon, the contractor that oversaw the renovations, having taken the contract from another firm, Leadbitter, whose original £11.6m quote for the job was considered too high, insisted that the work met all fire regulations. And Harley Facades, the company that fitted the panels, said in a statement shortly after the fire: "We are not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower."

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 20 Jun 2017 #permalink

In case you missed it - the IRLE at Cal - Berkeley has released their study of the Washington/Seattle minimum wage increase.

"Our results show that wages in food services did increase—indicating the policy achieved its goal—and our estimates of the wage increases are in line with the lion’s share of results in previous credible minimum wage studies. Wages increased much less among full-service restaurants, indicating that employers made use of the tip credit component of the law. Employment in food service, however, was not affected, even among the limited-service restaurants, many of them franchisees, for whom the policy was most binding."

Have you started to revise your risk perception of increasing the minimum wage or licensure, yet?


[No; see previous reply re creationism -W]

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 21 Jun 2017 #permalink

re Hank Roberts #85,

Thanks, that's informative about the fridges and various aspects including how widespread cladding fires are, internationally.

In #80 above, my focus was on fires before Rydon and their cladding subcontractor Harley Facades Ltd. began their design and build work; as specialists in cladding work, they should have been aware of the problem with fires, and should have acted responsibly. It seems evident that they didn't comply with the regulations, and even if they thought they were complying with the letter of the approved document AD B they should have advised their client that there was an issue with the aluminium faced polyethylene.

It would have been clearer if the regulation revisions advised in 2000 and 2013 had been implemented, and life would have been saved if sprinkler systems were retrofitted during cladding upgrading as well as being required for new building. None of which gives any excuse for producing unsafe work.

curiouser and curiouser....

“The proposed plans and other details submitted were reviewed by RBKC [Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea] building control,” the council said in a statement. “While a formal decision notice was not issued for the plans, the plans submitted were fully vetted by building control with comments provided; these comments were then followed up by the site inspection regime. Site inspections began on the 29/08/2014 with 16 inspections undertaken with final completion issued on the 07/07/2016 and a completion certificate issued.”

Worth noting that 16 inspections in two years isn't many, and while building control inspections are to satisfy themselves that work in general is in compliance with the building warrant, they're not quality control which remains the responsibility of the contractor. Things can go astray, even with a clerk of works making daily visits to check work is up to specification. As it's design and build, wouldn't necessarily expect a clerk of works to be involved. In this instance, did the building control officers ask for evidence that the cladding material was as the specification, and what did the specification show?

The statement "clad in a material banned on tall buildings by the government" is based on a quote from item 12.5 of ''Approved Document B (fire safety) volume 2: buildings other than dwellinghouses'' which, despite its title, covers flats.

It refers to 12.7: "In a building with a storey 18m or more above ground level any insulation product, filler material (not including gaskets, sealants and similar) etc. used in the external wall construction should be of limited combustibility"

Not as onerous as the "entirely non-combustible" proposed in 2000, but the detail of the regs suggests the Reynobond PE cladding wouldn't comply. Now the contractor and subcontractor have to defend their use of a blatantly inflammable product which caused multiple deaths.

WC - your ID remark was fluff. You linked to a Worstall punditry piece in which he cites Dean Baker, but Dean Baker only mentions the minimum wage in the comments - and there he supports increases.

You agree we see the data differently, but I provide data. Recent data. Not worthless Worstall talking head punditry. The licensure study is the most thorough I've found and it's completely at odds with your intuition. I suspect you didn't even bother to read it. At some point you have to move past gut feelings and look at real data.

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 21 Jun 2017 #permalink

" Now the contractor and subcontractor have to defend their use of a blatantly inflammable product which caused multiple deaths."

Will those who drove self extinguishing insuating foams out of the marketplace plead the O3 or the 4th decimal radiative forcing defense?

Re: #89 --- "Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream."

Chorus: "Very true, so they do."

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

re Russell #90, "those who drove self extinguishing insuating foams out of the marketplace" – eh?? Inaccurate premise.

What went on fire wasn't the insulating foam, which was a self-extinguishing grade and seems seems to have functioned accordingly, but the core material in the sandwich (0.5mm aluminium, 2.5mm core, 0.5mm aluminium) which was inflammable polyethylene instead of the fire reducing self-extinguishing grade which would only have cost an extra £5,000 on the whole project, according to reports.

Your argument sounds rather like the Daily Mail's front page on
Friday June 16:
“Were green targets to blame for fire tragedy?”

Or perhaps their article [as later amended] is a bit more accurate, despite the surprising number of spelling and grammatical errors (as well as some factual bloopers):

Select committee January 2000 “all external cladding systems should be required either to be entirely non-combustible, or to be proven through full-scale testing not to pose an unacceptable level of risk in terms of fire spread.”

March 2013 inquests close, re 6 fire deaths in 2009 at Lakanal House in Camberwell, after refurbishment work which had removed vital fire-stopping material between flats and communal corridors, and "asbestos window panels had been replaced with composite equivalents, which burned out in less than five minutes, accelerating the spread of the blaze."
The coroner, Judge Frances Kirkham, wrote asking Eric Pickles, then communities secretary, recommending his Department "encourage providers of housing in high rise residential buildings" to "consider the retro fitting of sprinkler systems". She notes Approved Document B (AD B) is "a most difficult document to use", and recommends it be reviewed to ensure that it provides clear guidance "with particular regard to the spread of fire the external envelope of a building" and the effects of refurbishment work, expressed in a way intelligible to all involved in construction, maintenance and refurbishment of buildings, not just professionals who already have depth of knowledge of regs.

result: Pickles passes the buck (but not the necessary funds for sprinkler retrofit) to local councils, AD B is still unintelligible. Risk apparently assessed as too low to justify effective action during focus on removing regulations, though by then PE cored cladding at 3 towers in Dubai and Sharjah had gone up in flames.

today: changing risk assessments ...

Government tells AP that 600 tower blocks have similar cladding to Grenfell,
Camden announces start on removing PE cored cladding from 5 tower blocks, though fire resistant rockwool insulation, system had contained a fire in 2012. The PE panels "were not to the standard that we had commissioned" and contractor informed council taking legal advice.
Barnet: 3 towers have PE cored cladding over rockwool insulation, considering sprinkler systems

10:59 Labour’s Anneliese Dodds asks if the government will now abandon the “one in, two out” rule for regulation (saying two regulations must be scrapped for every new one introduced) for fire safety. May says the government has always taken fire safety very seriously. This will be an issue for the inquiry, she says. [kicking problem into long grass]
13:25 Government says 600 figure not for "similar cladding", but for the number of tower blocks with cladding of some kind.

[Yup: you expect a bit of panic and lynching after stuff like this -W]

"[Yup: you expect a bit of panic and lynching after stuff like this -W]"

Is this your preferred way of dealing with fire risk?

[Nope. AFAIK it never works, except of course as a weapon for political infighting, which is what it is being used for now -W]

If that really worked, a lynching between 2000 and 2013 [after failure to require all cladding systems to be entirely non-combustible] might have saved at least 85 lives (not counting those lynched) and a lynching in 2013 could have stiffened resolve to implement the coroner's recommendations, but no...

So as long as someone from the council’s health and safety department had said to the council’s building services division that it might be a good idea to fit a sprinkler system, then everything was just hunky dory. Then the building services division was free to think about the advice for a couple of nanoseconds before legally ignoring it.

Here the sound of backs being covered were all too audible.

[Yup. That way of doing things - the way we're currently doing it, the way you want more of - doesn't work -W]

----excerpt follows-----
The industrialised world has already shifted to HFCs and is merrily contributing to greenhouse gases with use of this chemical in air-conditioners and refrigerators. All eyes are now on developing countries. Will they also choose HFCs and add to the gases in the atmosphere that take the world closer to the catastrophic climate change?

Sugarcoated knives are out as the rich convince the poor not to take their route but leapfrog to cleaner substances. What they do not say is that the alternatives are still experimental, contested, expensive and in the hands of their companies. They want the poor to jump into the costly, unknown world of patented technologies in the common interest of all. The poor and their companies are also seemingly greedy. They want double gains: get paid to move to substances that win the ozone fight and then get paid to shift away from these chemicals to those that save the world from climate change.

This is the business of ozone. First, companies made money out of CFCs, then they made money out of the alternatives. Now, they want to make money out of the alternatives to the alternatives, all in the name of saving the planet ....
-----end excerpt----

[Companies want to make money, yes. It is an example of natural selection. You don't see the companies that don't want to make money, because they disappear -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 22 Jun 2017 #permalink

"[Yup. That way of doing things – the way we’re currently doing it, the way you want more of – doesn’t work -W]"

The "way we're currently doing things" has deteriorated significantly within the last 25 years, I want restoration of lawful responsible practices in fire safety and construction. Improved to meet the challenge of new materials, not stuck in a loop of increasingly dogmatic deregulation... https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/22/government-backed-red-t… blaming "“red tape folly” as supposedly “expensive and burdensome for small businesses”, disregarding the huge expense and burden now being borne by the public.

The RIBA makes good points:

I'll highlight the 2005 "introduction of a regime of fire risk self-assessment and the repeal of fire certificate legislation with oversight by the local fire authority, building procurement approaches in which design and specification responsibility gets transferred from the architect or lead engineer to the contractor and sub-contractors, with no single point of responsibility, and the virtual disappearance of the role of the clerk of works or site architect.

Design and site checking of work by the client's representative evolved to deal with incompetence or mendacity by contractors, if the builders are left to do their own checking, don't be surprised when they cut corners. Then go bankrupt when it goes pear-shaped, and restart their business under a new name.

Perhaps you can advise on a better way?

[Did you read PB's suggestion? -W]

presumably PB's suggestion is "So here’s a proposal: we make a legal requirement that a construction company be contractually required to purchase indemnity insurance for its work, lasting for say 30 years (that period could be reduced for temporary structures). The insurance to be structured in such a way that coverage continues even if the construction company ceases to exist (probably by paying for the whole period of cover in advance). That way, the construction company has the appropriate financial incentive to do things right."

It's re-inventing the wheel. For design and specification, it's called professional indemnity insurance, which architects have to have while practicing and [generally] for six years after ceasing to practice. The shift to "design and build" sidesteps this, so similar insurance really should be required of tenderers, but that would be "red tape" costing the businesses money.

For contractors, subcontractors and suppliers, insurance backed warranties are sometimes available. These could become more general practice, and could be extended to cover liability for personal injury or other damages to the public.

When problems arise, there still has to be a defined standard of work, which is provided by building regulations. Sometimes the standards are also set by building insurers, which can be more onerous than legislated building standards.

Increased insurance does of course add to the cost of doing work, and things going wrong provides work for lawyers.

Better to have clear regulations. AD B should be rewritten so that all concerned can easily understand it, as Judge Frances Kirkham states clearly in her letter of 2013 linked at #93 above, but the Government has failed to get on with that. Hence the recent swithering about whether PE cored cladding is illegal on residential towers.

Note that the claimed illegality relies on the AD B requirement that for buildings 18m or more above ground level, cladding materials "should be of limited combustibility". If your flat is in a building only six storeys high, you're out of luck, and flammable cladding is ok with AD B. Worth taking the risk?

[I don't think the proposal is reinventing the wheel. The bit about architects is irrelevant; making it required for tenderers / contractors is the point, which you skip over rather lightly. Yes, it would be extra "red tape" and so would need to be balanced by cutting red tape elsewhere. Your conclusion "Better to have clear regulations" is really just re-stating your desires again; you've done that already; I don't foresee agreement. Your assertion that it would be easy to write the regs to be clear is not credible; refer Hobbes -W]

> “Did you read PB’s suggestion?” - W

WC, did you read Bob Loblaw’s comment at #57?

[Yes. Did you rad PB's reply at #58, to which I replied; that essentially folds in my answer to 57 -W]

PaulB’s suggestion sounds an awful lot like a “regulation that reduces competition, instead of increasing quality”.

[I don't understand why you would say that. All regulation favours larger companies, who can afford the staff to deal with all the red tape -W]

Furthermore, PaulB’s suggestion further emphasis the need for comprehensive building codes to determine who’s at fault in the insurance claims.

But regardless of your thoughts on its effectiveness, PaulB’s suggestion is an additional legal requirement (mandatory indemnity insurance) that further regulates the construction industry. Why do you, the anti-regulator crusader, support it?

[Try reading my reply to DS, just above -W]

> “Yes, it would be extra “red tape” and so would need to be balanced by cutting red tape elsewhere” – W

Such as?

[Err, have you noticed this is the answer to your question just above? -W]

> “Your assertion that it would be easy to write the regs to be clear is not credible; refer Hobbes” – W

WC, do you work with design regulations, codes and standards? They’re fairly easy to follow and when I have a question on the interpretation, I pick up the phone and call my Department of Labour inspector. When you’re not looking to bend the rules, it’s pretty straightforward.

[Yes, yes. When all the world is nice and everyone has a pony, then the world is nice. But alas! It is not true that the world is always nice; the rules need to cover situations in which people disagree, too -W]

If I tried to bend the rules and someone died, I’d be in court, with or without regulations. Just with the former, there’s more ammunition to sue my company and/or put me in jail for criminal negligence. Again to PaulB’s core point about incentivizing good behaviour, the existence of regulations and professional liability certainly promotes that.

Oh, and when something goes wrong but everything was done to code, you get a lot of smart people together to review the situation and determine if the code needs revising to prevent that from happening again. This group of smart people involves government agencies, designers/consultants, academics and people from that industry. The latter is important to make sure the new code isn’t unnecessarily complex or burdensome.

It’s really not nearly as hap-hazard or convoluted as you make it sound. I’m not sure if that is from your ignorance of the process or from your ideological blinders.

Architects are relevant, as someone has to design and specify the construction. With professionals, you get someone operating under a code of conduct, who's obliged to have indemnity insurance in case they get things wrong.

With design and build, the contractor does the design; if they're required to carry indemnity insurance, that's what PB suggested. Similarly, the tender can include insurance for the materials and work.

The regulations themselves are very general, and not really at issue here. Writing them for clarity is basic stuff, but not achieved in AD B. Have you tried reading it to find out if flammable cladding is prohibited? There's no reason it couldn't be made clearer.

Speaking of which, it's reported that 11 tower blocks with similar combustible cladding have now been found, across eight local authority areas in England, checks of all tower blocks in Scotland have found that none have the cladding.

By a remarkable coincidence, Building Standards in Scotland have required cladding or recladding to be non-combustible since 2005, and there were already stringent standards in place before that. Maybe it's just that Scots are more literate?

from #99, "[I don’t understand why you would say that. All regulation favours larger companies, who can afford the staff to deal with all the red tape -W]"

Wrong – deregulation favours larger companies who can throw their weight around, well considered legislation provides for the smaller guys.

Example: by the 1970s the Building Regulations and Building Standards (Scotland) were each a smallish paperback, setting out the regs with tables of "deemed to satisfy" construction that anyone could follow, such as timber joist sizes for various spans so no need to engage a structural engineer. The Scottish standards gave more information about how to provide fire escape, so I used that when doing a school extension in Hertfordshire as I think fire safety is important.

With much ballyhoo from Thatcher about "cutting back regulations", new shorter versions were introduced in the 1980s; each a brief document of statements of principle which are only useful in combination with a series of Approved Documents, much bulkier and more expensive than the old regs. Badly written and difficult to follow, at least in the case of Approved Document B Fire Safety (AD B), as discussed above. Making it harder for small businesses to meet them.

re Russell at #101, to clarify, the aluminium composite cladding [Reynobond PE with a polyethylene core or FR with a fire retarding core] is a thin rain screen, and is separate from the insulation which can be foam [self extinguishing grade at Grenfell] or rockwool as at Camden – visible where the cladding panel has been removed in the top photo

For William, hope for the bare-footed..
though that doesn't seem to have been an Elfin-Safety issue...

[Ah, that's sweet -W]

[thanks for deleting the duplicate #102, so the final one's at that number]

[:-) -W]

Correction to my guess about the Grenfell Tower insulation: it looked intact if charred in the photos, but I was wrong;
Det Supt Fiona McCormack says that in BRE testing, "the insulation samples combusted soon after the test started. The initial tests on the cladding tiles also failed on the safety tests."

The big worry is combustible insulation on other buildings.
Implies that there's much less of a problem where Reynobond PE is used as the rain screen over rockwool insulation, but still potential for fire spread as the thin aluminium/polyethylene sandwich is combustible.


"... "If economists couldn't predict the biggest financial crisis in decades, what are they good for?"

It's a fair question, if posed as a challenge to the small minority of economists who try to forecast macroeconomic outcomes (like growth and inflation) and financial markets. Even so, a decade after the crisis, it might cross a critic's mind to wonder if anything has changed.
... It has. ... the kind of approach rooted in biology and psychology that Richard Bookstaber, who manages risk for the University of California's $100 billion portfolio, advocates in the final part of The End of Theory ....

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 23 Jun 2017 #permalink

> “Did you read PB’s reply at #58, to which I replied; that essentially folds in my answer to 57” – W

Yup, PaulB basically says, “ya, so?”. He seems to acknowledge that his suggestion would prohibit (or at least deter) smaller construction companies from the market, as they couldn’t afford or get the insurance. You don’t have an objection to that?

I do agree that insurance could be a backstop for inspection. But adding another regulation for mandatory insurance doesn’t really help to prevent or reduce the risk – it merely helps address who pays for the damages.

[No; you've missed the point. The current regulation system misaligns risk and reward, which is always bad. A key part of the circuit - those charged with enforcing the regulations - have little direct motive to do their job well. Meanwhile, people have expressed concern about fly-by-night companies folding before they could be held accountable. With insurance, the hope is that those providing the insurance have a motive to ensure that those they are insuring do the work well -W]

But, as Bob Loblaw points out in #61 (which neither you nor PaulB replied to), it doesn’t even really help with that either because there’s nothing stopping the insurance company from declaring bankruptcy.

[That doesn't seem to be an interesting point. Ins companies go through reinsurance -W]

The state is still probably left footing the bill…which is why investment on prevention on the front end is much more cost efficient.

There are two major issues that make the likelihood of this fire much greater - one is a steady transition away from investment and teeth in inspection, which needs to be reversed. The other issue is that these materials, which are prohibited in other jurisdictions, are currently permissible in this jurisdiction. Revising the current codes and regulations and investing more in detailed inspections would reduce the likelihood and severity of these fires.

> “Err, have you noticed this is the answer to your question just above?” - W

Ok, so you’re supporting a new regulation (mandatory insurance) that would (1) still rely heavily on comprehensive building codes (for claims), (2) would prevent (or deter) small companies from the market,

[I haven't agreed to that -W]

(3) would do little to directly prevent or reduce of the risk of fires,

[Or that -W]

(4) would not guarantee someone was financial responsible for the fire (insurance company, rather than contractor, could just declare bankruptcy) and

[Or that -W]

(5) probably produce a whole new slew of regulations to regulate the (now) mandatory insurance industry. But so long as red tape is reduced elsewhere (and I was asking for examples of where…), you’re ok with that????

> “the rules need to cover situations in which people disagree, too” – W

Did you bother to read the next two paragraphs where I discuss situations in which people disagree?

I think your [sic] ignorant of how regulations, codes and standards are actually used, created and revised in the real world. Instead, your view of them comes from libertarian land – where you can hyperbolize the negatives, ignore the positives and downplay the damages that would be caused in the absence of the regulation. Y’know that's the exact kind of thing you *don’t* want to do in a cost/benefit or risk assessment...

> “The current regulation system misaligns risk and reward…[inspectors] have little direct motive to do their job well” – W

Do you honestly think the inspector(s) and Kensington and Chelsea council carry no risk in this matter? In the case of the inspector, they carry risk (termination) but no real reward – so there is no motivation to approve something that shouldn’t be (outside of bribery – which carries significantly more risk). The inspections is a secondary check that the design and construction was done right – which is the responsibility of the designer and prime construction contractor. In the case of the designer and contractor, the risk and reward are aligned. If they cut corners to save costs, they are on the hook (even if the inspectors misses it). (and most designers and large contractors already have indemnity insurance – the real issue is subcontractors.)

> “With insurance, the hope is that those providing the insurance have a motive to ensure that those they are insuring do the work well” – W

How does mandatory indemnity insurance improve this in any way? The insurance company that provides a companies indemnity insurance doesn’t send a representative to inspect their work. So having (or not having) indemnity insurance doesn’t change the inspector or their motive.

Even if the insurance company did provide their own inspectors, the ultimate punishment for the inspectors themselves is termination regardless of whether they are hired by an oversight/regulatory body or an insurance company. The motive remains the same.

> “people have expressed concern about fly-by-night companies folding before they could be held accountable” – W

I agree that’s an issue but isn’t the solution more prevention rather than an elaborate method of ensuring someone pays up? As stated above, indemnity insurance does little to nothing to improve the prevention aspect. A better approach would likely be to stop slashing the oversight body’s budget – which is a constant target for the fiscally-conservative champions.

> “I haven’t agreed to that” – W

You’re right, you’ve simply ignored them after they’ve been repeatedly outlined by myself and others. It may be helpful if you tried to explain how or why (2) – (4) would not apply to the mandatory indemnity insurance suggestion.

> “I think your [sic]”

I deserved the sass. But, for the record, I didn’t put a [sic] next to your “rad” (instead of read) – I corrected it for you when I quoted it! :P

Despite my poor tone, I still stand by my point. Much like your frequently used (but infrequently defended) “bent bananas” example, you are quick to jump on the negatives and ignore the positives. It’s a rather poor risk assessment of the regulations.

Many thanks for the clarification- aluminum foil may oxidize in place when it melts atop poly, but scaling the surface tension, half-mm cladding is evidently has the mass to dribble down into molten droplets -

Have we been watching videos of smoke shrouded aluminum rain falling downward through the flames?

The saner souls at the Speccie suspect some Law Lords have :
After finding that the cladding and insulation used in Grenfell Tower failed fire safety tests, police are considering manslaughter charges, the Telegraph reports.

As a lawyer and a landlord, I have a number of reactions to this fire.

1. In the US, the maker of the cladding, Arconic (formerly Alcoa) would face heavy liability under the rubric of product liability. It manufactured a defective product. I don't know how they could have been so stupid as to sell it. It obviously was a disaster in the making. (See Beverly Hills disaster in US http://www.enquirer.com/beverlyhills/litigation.html) See also NYTs article on Tower fire. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/24/world/europe/grenfell-tower-london-f…

2. There are many arguments that can be made in support of or against regulations in general. Building codes in my mind are one example of regulations that generally work and are helpful. In light of the many infirmities of all human beings, it is amazing to me of how few buildings fall down. I attribute this to building codes.

3. There are many, many regulations that are counterproductive and are done only to increase the power of government regulators (who can then use the power to achieve their own personal ends) or to impose on private parties responsibilities that should be borne by the government. Or to surreptitiously raise taxes.

Some examples from my own experience. The county in which my properties are located requires that landlords register their contact info with the county. I am good with that. However, a small city within the county requires a duplicate registration and charges $10 for the registration. Obvious example of a surreptitious tax. This same city requires landlords to tell their tenants that they (the tenants) are potentially liable for city income taxes. (Simply lazy city officials who don't want to do their job. Also, went to city website to see what tax rate was and website was so bad that I couldn't even find what the tax rate was.) Also, with respect to private septic systems, owners are now required to have their new septic systems electronically hooked up to the county's electronic system. The county then says that you can't even touch your own system -- you must have a licensed repairer do even the most minor repairs. Of course, the licensed repairers then charge outrageous fees for minor repairs.


Been busy for a few days - I see my name being bandied about, so I guess it's time to weight back in.

The idea of solving this by requiring liability insurance seems poorly thought out to me. Is this adding a new regulation, or is it replacing other ones? If just a new regulation, it's hardly a way of cleaning up the current state of things. At the other extreme, you could go with "no building codes or inspections by govt., private liability insurance only". Is anyone really suggesting it go that far? If not, then how much govt regulation and inspection are you calling for?

(I note that our host has not responded to my question in comment #37 where I stated "Everything is a failure of government. If this is a caricature of your position, perhaps it would help if you gave a clear indication of how you would decide if a government regulation is positive or negative?

[I didn't reply, because the question didn't make sense. "EIAFOG" isn't a caricature of my position; it's just totally unrelated to my position. Agreeing on a general abstract rule to decide if a given regulation is +ve or -ve is difficult; that, in a sense, is part of the argument against; good law is sufficiently abstract that it can be generally agreed on; see Hayek -W]

We already have a system of home insurance, run privately in any jurisdiction I have lived in. It's available to the home owner, not the builder, and it is not mandatory. The only way you might be required to have it is if you are borrowing money to buy the place - the lender wants to make sure they'll get their money back if you burn the place down. Do lenders do their own inspections? No, not generally - they work with the knowledge that there are building codes. That eevil gummint is protecting their interests - bearing some of the cost of taking on the risk. The insurance company will probably charge more for older houses built under poorer building codes, though. And I bet they would not like to have to take on the burden of inspecting every house before they sell insurance - and the homeowners wouldn't like having to pay an inspection fee ever time they wanted to switch insurance companies.

Even within current "eevil gummint" building codes, the quality of material is often subject to standards set by external agencies. The code says "it must meet this standard", but it's someone else that determines that standard (e.g., in Canada, the Canadian Standards Association.) And a code could select from any of several national or international standards if they choose.

That politicians come up with stupid regulations is a given, but politicians that just want to blindly remove regulation without consideration of a suitable alternative is a cure that's worse than the disease.

"I have a regulation that says when I add a regulation, I have to take two away. So, I agree that we need to limit the amount of cyanide in drinking water. That means I'm going to have to eliminate the regulations that restrict lead and mercury. Have a nice day!"

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 24 Jun 2017 #permalink

JD Ohio:

Some of what you describe in your last paragraph in #112 probably qualifies as "rent seeking": A certain business segment lobbies government (or donates to the campaigns of candidates favourable to their position), and forces a requirement that restricts freedom of consumer choice. Seems reasonable for some specific skills (e.g., brain surgery, engineering, and - I assume you'd agree - lawyers), but less reasonable for others.

The common rent-seeking example is taxis requiring municipal licenses. Uber has found the way around the Maginot Line on that.


As for your point #1 - the cladding may be reasonably safe in some applications. From what I have seen in the news, in Canada such cladding is only permissible on buildings up to three floors in height, where escape is quick and easy. Thus the product is legal to sell - but not legal to use on tall buildings. How do we prevent people from illegally using a legally-owned product? (My suggestion is "inspection")

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 24 Jun 2017 #permalink

"JD Ohio:'Some of what you describe in your last paragraph in #112 probably qualifies as “rent seeking”:

Nope. It is simply a small town with little money. The lazy incompetent Town officials figure that they can surreptitiously raise taxes by imposing fees on landlords.

Your response got me thinking. There is another small town that Charges fees for building permits, but it does not inspect the work after the permit is obtained.



I was thinking more of the licensed septic system repairs.

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 24 Jun 2017 #permalink

Back to the starting post: "Even poor people will leave a building on fire. But not one at ''risk'' of fire; even one at perceived high risk of fire. The connection to weighing risks from future GW should be obvious."

Not so simple, and the desirability of regulation shifts –
2016 published draft: “school buildings do not need to be sprinkler protected to achieve a reasonable standard of life safety”, schools minister Nick Gibb said the number of fires in schools had declined “including sprinklers in new school buildings would add between 2% and 6% to the cost of works”. "The department’s assessment is that the additional spending would significantly outweigh any relatively modest saving from preventing some damage to school buildings."

2017 “What we would like to stress is that what we do will be a strengthening of fire safety requirements, not any weakening of them.”

Homes that were thought safe enough a fortnight ago are now in a chaos of evacuation, some residents scared of remaining, others angry at being forced to leave what they've got, housing managers forced to act by the fire brigade's assessment that the buildings are unsafe.

[So not surprisingly, people's perception of risk is rather strongly affected by that risk occurring. That part is entirely rational. Rushing people out of their homes isn't obviously rational; that smacks rather strongly of back-covering by officials, in a manner similar to the foolish responses to terrorism -W]

Clearer regulations in the first place, properly enforced by the client and by building control, would have saved all this from happening. Relying on contractors to produce sound work while financial incentives and cost savings are incentives for skimping, then asking the contractors to self-certify the work, is a recipe for unsafe buildings.

[We're back to the same disagreement -W]

"[So not surprisingly, people’s perception of risk is rather strongly affected by that risk occurring. That part is entirely rational. Rushing people out of their homes isn’t obviously rational; that smacks rather strongly of back-covering by officials, in a manner similar to the foolish responses to terrorism -W]"

The rational thing to do was to check fire safety during construction, and at regular inspections. Skipped to reduce "red tape".
Rushing people out of their homes isn’t obviously rational, but is inevitable when the fire brigade certify the homes as unsafe. With messy results..

It would probably be better to have a slow and considered programme of decanting people while improvement work takes place, but that would need a structure taking liability for the interim risk. Best organised in full consultation with the tenants, but telling people they can stay put means an immense responsibility and liability if the combustible cladding goes up in flames on another block. Something that needs to be resolved throughout England..

Your "back-covering by officials" looks like a knee-jerk blame game, the officials have to implement whatever's decided, but the decision is for elected members and the government.

"[We’re back to the same disagreement -W]", yes, note I said England. Scotland put in place rational regulations requiring cladding to be non-combustible, and doesn't seem to face this particular problem. Having learnt from a 1999 fire. Do you think it's more rational to ignore experience?

[Naturally, I think we should learn from experience. You appear to think there is only one thing we can learn, and only one path we could possibly follow. I disagree; that is the same disagreement we're back to -W]

"[Naturally, I think we should learn from experience. You appear to think there is only one thing we can learn, and only one path we could possibly follow. I disagree; that is the same disagreement we’re back to -W]"

I've pointed out a method that's been reasonably successful, what alternative path are you proposing?

[I don't think I'm obliged to point out a path; that's not what this post is about -W]

Well, if you don't like law and regulation, another path to rushing people out of their home..
Not a good path, in my opinion.

The path of lax quality control on buildings is proving expensive

Perceptions of risk have clearly changed, how best to restore credible acceptable risk levels, other than by setting standards and checking the work.... ?

"Bob L-- JD:I was thinking more of the licensed septic system repairs."

I agree that is part of the motivation. The other part is pure power grabbing and laziness of the regulators. (If landowners can't even touch their own septic system, it is easier for the regulators to simply bark out orders without thinking of their practical application. Basically, submit or be screwed)


WC: "[I didn’t reply, because the question didn’t make sense. “EIAFOG” isn’t a caricature of my position; it’s just totally unrelated to my position.]

Well, your propensity to blame government and accuse others of just wanting to increase regulation makes it very difficult to distinguish your position from that caricature.

WC: [I don’t think I’m obliged to point out a path; that’s not what this post is about -W]

Your blog, your rules, but we're also not obliged to think you have much constructive to say on the matter.

[Yes, exactly. Sometimes I'm just commenting on things. It would be bizarrely restrictive if I were only "allowed" to post on things if I had constructive suggestions to make -W]

I come here because of the climate-related posts, and I've known and engaged in constructive discussion with you on such matters since the early days of sci.environment.. I find this sequence on risk and govt. regulation rather disappointing in comparison.

[That is natural. I knew what I was talking about in terms of climate -W]

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 25 Jun 2017 #permalink


Yes, the regulators may just be taking the easy way out - insist on "professions" and don't bother actually inspecting the work. Home owners will often react to that by doing the work anyway and not telling anyone - so the crappy work (pun intended) does not get noticed until the $#!^ (pun intended again) hits the fan.

On the other hand, if the regulators say "we have a problem with home-owner repairs", and the septic repair business lobbies for "professional" status and a closed market, then the rent-seeking description applies.

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 25 Jun 2017 #permalink

> people's perception of risk is rather strongly
> affected by that risk occurring.

Hm. Find out which structures are firetraps, publish that information widely in an environment where there are nutcase terrorists looking for exploitable vulnerabilities, I'd say that adds to the risk.

Suicide vests for buildings, isn't this cladding stuff?

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 25 Jun 2017 #permalink

Crucial point obscured by focus on cladding fire:
Camden Council made the decision to evacuate after it found that in addition to the cladding, there were numerous fire risks inside the towers such as inadequate fire doors, gas pipes and insulation.
the London Fire Brigade would have forced the council to act if they did not do so voluntarily.
It was not a voluntary decision.

The evacuation is about shoddy workmanship, which should have been checked and rectified by the contractor.
Cut backs on client side checks and on building control inspections were a short term false economy, the government were very proud of these savings until now...

[Once again, you absolve those whose responsibility it was to do the inspections -W]

re: "[Once again, you absolve those whose responsibility it was to do the inspections -W]"

Responsibility for quality control is first and foremost with the contractors, who should do their own inspections.
There used to be frequent site inspections by the clerk of works, but nowadays it's common not to have a clerk of works. They had the option of requiring a contractor to open up concealed work, at the client's expense if nothing was wrong, but the clients on these projects apparently didn't employ a clerk of works.

As discussed at #88 above, building control visits have been cut back,

[Now I look, evidence for that is a touch vague. What's the exact cite? -W]

and they made 16 inspections in two years. If the faults weren't obviously visible on these sparse visits, they'd have no chance to see them. Certainly it has to be considered if they fully met their responsibility, but that responsibility is very limited.
The council stated “While a formal decision notice was not issued for the plans, the plans submitted were fully vetted by building control with comments provided; these comments were then followed up by the site inspection regime." So no doubt that will be investigated for evidence about how the inspectors carried out their duties. It also raises intriguing questions about the specification in the plans, and what was in the comments.

Crucial point: just how much quality assurance can be expected from visits at around seven week intervals?

It is interesting (and disturbing) that all of the 600 towers which have been tested for combustibility have failed: across multiple regions of the UK.

This suggests (1) its going to be rather difficult to prosecute any (individual) inspectors or building firms for the Grenfell deaths, and (2) something is indeed terribly wrong with the regulations + inspections regime on tower cladding.

It is not clear that this finding absolves the inspectors. It does seem extraordinary that none of them, across the whole of the UK, seemed able to act in an appropriate manner i.e. to get combustibility tests carried out at the correct time (before the cladding went on). Particularly given the previous Lakanal House fire.

[Some caution is in order, because nothing is known about these tests - or at least, I know nothing about them. Clearly, they aren't "the standard tests applied to all panels before approval", because if they were, they'd have failed before. Are they new tests, or what? -W]

I should have said all towers which have been tested so far - the papers say about 60..

re #126, building control visits have been cut back, "[Now I look, evidence for that is a touch vague. What’s the exact cite? -W]"

My synthesis, was possibly thinking of https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/20/brexiteers-red-ta… : "Just in the year 2015/16, in the south-east where the skyline is thick with cranes, inspections fell by 26%." but these seem to have been HSE inspections.

Superficially, Kensington & Chelsea take on responsibility:
https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/planning-and-building-control/building-control "The Department of Building Control is responsible for ensuring that building work in the Royal Borough meets the standards of the building regulations."
Inspections seem to be prearranged, and charged to the applicant.

For the mechanism of building control inspections, see
"What we need to know is what was inspected. You can go on site 16 times but not necessarily see everything you need to see. They may have inspected the fixings, the fire barrier and the cavity, which are equally important but are useless if you put a flammable material on the front.” Turner said that it was difficult to tell the difference between fire-resistant and non-fire resistant panels once they are installed and stressed that “the person responsible for doing it right is the person carrying out the work”.

Clearly this will all be part of the investigation, it may not lead to prosecution - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-18280160

re #127. "[Some caution is in order, because nothing is known about these tests – or at least, I know nothing about them. Clearly, they aren’t “the standard tests applied to all panels before approval”, because if they were, they’d have failed before. Are they new tests, or what? -W]"

As discussed at #80 above, the Select Committee in 2000 proposed "all external cladding systems should be required either to be entirely non-combustible, or to be proven through full-scale testing not to pose an unacceptable level of risk in terms of fire spread.”
History at http://www.probyn-miers.com/perspective/2016/02/fire-risks-from-externa…
The BRE's fire test was then refined to become BS 8414-2: 2005 – Fire performance of external cladding systems.

AD B requires 18m cladding materials “should be of limited combustibility”, it's rather obscure.
Reynobond's 2008 Agrément Certificate muddles issues, suggesting "Class O" which is a rather undefined spread of flame rating.
The insulation failed fire tests, but its manufacturer presents it as suitable for use with rainscreen cladding above 18m. height.
Update - Friday 23rd June
Grenfell Tower: Celotex is to stop the supply of RS5000 for use in rainscreen cladding systems in buildings over 18m tall

Careful reading of the Reynobond data sheet in conjunction with AD B shows that the PE product is not suitable for use about 18m.

Reynobond should have made that clear. The contractors should have known anyway. And the council should have worked it out.

"Cladding from as many as 600 tower blocks across England is being tested ... Of the 60 high-rise building tested so far, in 25 areas, none has passed.
"Mr Sharma added: "People should not wait for the checks to come back from these (tests).""


This reminds me of something I was told decades ago about highrise structures in San Francisco -- that they are only required to use "safety glass" in the lower few stories but above that ordinary plate glass is allowed, and much cheaper.

The commenter noted that after a major earthquake, the Financial District sidewalks and streets will be two stories deep in sharp-edge shattered window glass fallen from the 30-40-story towers.

I started carrying cut-proof Kevlar chefs' gloves with me, and a flashlight. Anyone know where to get a Kevlar hoodie?

I think I learned that around the time my then employer got an earthquake study done for their offices in a landfill high-rise -- I heard that the bottom line was that in the big shake the building was expected to "walk out into San Francisco Bay and fall over" -- we moved inland after that.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 26 Jun 2017 #permalink

re Paul #131, you're right.

Grenfell Tower: cladding material linked to fire pulled from sale worldwide
"it emerged that the company knew that the less fire-resistant version, Reynobond PE, would be used on Grenfell Tower, despite its own guidelines warning that it was unsuitable for buildings above 10m tall. Emails obtained by Reuters showed Arconic was involved in discussions about the use of cladding on the building during 2014. One of its own brochures states that Reynobond PE should only be used in buildings up to 10m, with more fire-resistant products recommended above that height. Grenfell Tower is more than 60m tall."

[We're into vague language land again, though. What does "should" mean? How strong is a recommendation? Is "warning that it was unsuitable" and actual quote from their guidelines, or is it the Graun's extraplolation of "should"? Also, is the company expected to police the use of its products (unreasonable, in my opinion)? -W]

There's also the question of putting components which individually have a fire rating into an assembled system which behaves differently ... and the method of testing is under question, it may not be the large scale tests repeatedly recommended post. 1999...

[That seems to be an important point; just testing the panel alone may not mean much -W]

WC: "[Once again, you absolve those whose responsibility it was to do the inspections -W]"

Who carries that responsibility? I see a chain:

- the inspectors, who may or may not exist depending on budgets and staffing priorities
- the managers, who try to allocate limited resources across priorities
- the politicians, who define the budgets and set policy
- the voters that vote in the politicians.
- the PR specialists that figure out how to pull the voters' emotional triggers
- etc.

Where I live, any $ spent by the federal/provincial/municipal governments have to lead back to an act of Parliament/legislature/council that approves the spending. Recent governing parties have been really big on cutting budgets and "getting government out of the way of business". An easy way to do that without having to re-write and repeal a lot of regulations is to cut back on the number of inspectors and inspections. Here is an example where that appeared to be a factor in food inspections:


You could say that the voters are getting what they asked for. On the other hand, when a politician says that to the voters, they might not like hearing it. Especially when it is the long-governing party that blames the voters.



By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 26 Jun 2017 #permalink

re comment on #133, "[...... Also, is the company expected to police the use of its products (unreasonable, in my opinion)? -W]
In this instance, the company was advised when processing the order that a product it recommended only for buildings under 10m was to be used for a tower block six times that height. It should have replied that the material was unsuitable for the use, and to avoid being an accessory to misuse should have raised it with the client body before processing the order. Expect this will all come out in the criminal investigations.

[I'm dubious. If the company brochure / whatever says "use this in circumstance X" they I think they've done their bit; it is up to the user to do so. Again, you're unthinkingly imposing burdens on business, effectively with menaces (do this meaningless bureaucracy or you'll get into criminal investigations). This is why meaningless bureaucracy proliferates, to all our harm -W]

Sensible article on the broader issues at https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2017/jun/27/tower-block-cla… – read on from
"We have a sprinkler system, and communal areas free of possessions and rubbish. ...."
Considerably reducing the risk to life – think of all those similarly clad buildings across the world that went up in flames without anyone being killed – more expensive initially, but much better economy in the long term.

Perhaps a lesson for dealing with AGW?

People discount the future, risk and all, eh?

... the Cascadia fault has a lot in common with the faults that produced the Sumatra quake in 2004 and the Japan quake in 2011 .... More recent analysis reveals that the fault has slipped 41 times in the last 10,000 years. Nineteen of those were massive end-to-end ruptures of the fault.

Why no earthquakes since the one in 1700? Because the plates are locked and building tension. Odds are about 37% for a major quake within 50 years, with a 10% chance of a massive end-to-end rupture....

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 27 Jun 2017 #permalink

WC - Have you ever considered the smell test? The Seattle, WA unemployment rate has fallen to 2.6% since the MW increase went into effect (Data here) - yet thousands of jobs have been lost. Yeah - that might just be a bit hard to explain. But hey, the outlier study agrees with yours (and timmy's) ideology. So it's OBVIOUSLY the correct one.

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 27 Jun 2017 #permalink

Back on the fire topic, views on the underlying problem at

With a link to a historical perspective at
1667 after ye Great Fire of London, Sir Christopher Wren drafts laws requiring fire-resistance
1939 London Building Act required the outside of all buildings to be fireproof, Section 20 required extra safety measures for buildings over 30m high
1986, the act superseded by national Building Regulations, tall buildings "only needed to have a class 0 certification, which meant that materials just had to deflect flames."
2013, [Eric Pickles] repeal of Sections 20 and 21
this week: "We have never had a disaster in a Section 20 building, it is the changes to the Building Regulations that led to this. The old ones worked. The reason London survived the Blitz without turning into a huge fireball is because of the London Building Act."

For some reason, some Ra[n]dians seem to be opposed to regulations. By a remarkable coincidence, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid reads the courtroom scene in Rand's The Fountainhead every year.
Not sure how he regards regulations.

[This is The Graun. Of course it was about the Evil Capitalist Cost Cutters. But how does that information rather than noise? As to building more houses, he is an idiot: the problem is lack of land with planning permission; again, a problem of govt-W]

Re: The U of W study on Seattle's minimum wage. The Economic Policy Institute's Ben Zipperer and John Schmitt point out that:

"The spurious results are clear in the case of the restaurant industry, as we illustrate in Figure B, where the authors’ own methodology and estimates imply that the Seattle minimum wage increase caused an incredible 20.1 percent growth in restaurant jobs paying above $19.00 per hour. While this number is not directly reported in their paper, it can be precisely inferred from their other results. To make this inference, we first note that when Jardim et al. focus on the restaurant industry, they estimate that the minimum wage increase to $13.00 caused restaurant jobs paying less than $19.00 hour to fall by an average of 10.7 percent (see their Table 9, averaging the estimates provided for the employment fall in 2016). At the same time, they find that the minimum wage caused essentially zero change in the number of all restaurant jobs, regardless of their wage rate. Because jobs under $19.00 comprised 65.4 percent of the restaurant industry prior to the first minimum wage increase (see Jardim et al.’s Table 3 for the 2014Q2–2015Q1 period), and because these jobs shrank by 10.7 percent while overall employment held steady, it follows that Jardim et al.’s estimates imply that the Seattle minimum wage increased the number of restaurant jobs paying over $19.00 per hour by about 20.1 percent."

Or as Econospeak's Peter Dorman writes: "One interpretation is that the Seattle study’s methodology didn’t sufficiently control for factors that have caused upward movements in wages (moving workers out of lower and into higher wage categories) in Seattle compared to other communities. That’s what the EPI folks think. I prefer to take the results at face value: by increasing the minimum wage we can, by some currently unknown process, cause a big upward shift in wages, not just around the minimum, but all the way up to the stratospheric reaches of the labor market. That negative elasticity for the lower-paid is fully offset by a positive elasticity for the middle and upper class.



By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 27 Jun 2017 #permalink

Whuffo my comment is awaiting moderation?

[Security trubbles. See post -W]

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 01 Jul 2017 #permalink

re W's comments at 140 and 141, my interest was in the development of regulations, and the strange case of Sajid Javid, government minister in charge, fan of Ayn Rand who annually watches a courtroom scene from her ''The Fountainhead'', which glorifies a megalomaniac architect (played by Gary Cooper) who defends his right to blow up his Miesian style tower block masterpiece because it's imperfect due to lesser mortals. Worrying if Javid thinks that's reality.

Historical points from PMQ's knockabout, and Theresa's "blame Blair" excuse: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2017-06-28b.585.2#g589.0 ...

She misleadingly claimed the [[Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005]] "ended the practice of routine fire service inspections, passing the responsibility to councils". The order replaced old regulations about hotels, boarding houses, offices, shops and railway premises. The new act covered non-domestic premises, and added a requirement for fire risk assessments of communal areas in blocks of flats – London Fire Brigade agreed to assist with training Southwark's staff to do these https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/LakanalTranscriptDay44.p… – previously, fire risk assessments of blocks of flats had not been commonplace, and it was more normal to not inspect flats. https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/LakanalTranscriptDay35.p…

Theresa said "The cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair Government", and the Graun related this to the Camden [[Chalcots Estate]] PFI renovation from 2006 to 2009, when Rydon's works added aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. When the Fire Brigade condemned blocks, Camden pressed ahead with evacuation and getting urgent repairs under way; as the PFI scheme includes 15 years maintenance (underwritten by by John Laing Investment Finance and Aberdeen Asset Management) Camden are looking to recover costs from them... http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/documents/s60718/LBC%20Final%20Report%20…



"... The council had approved a generous contract to a physicist from the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy to develop and implement what he said would be a $20 million, coal-scrubbing technology on the city's downtown power plant. "Just a terrible deal," Bach says.

The city had pitched it as a way of making a profit—when the technology was licensed to other plants, Colorado Springs would share in the rewards. But the city was also on the hook to pay for the research and development it required, and costs quickly spiraled. Just last month, the business shut down ...."

[It's a weird article. I hate the style: too much lead-in colour, too little fact. And the title is stupid. But apart from that, it's just another tale of people disagreeing with each other and gummit making bad deals -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 05 Jul 2017 #permalink

> [Colorado Springs] gummint making bad deals

That's _'ibertarian_ government making bad deals.

[I don't think so; the mayor was L but most of the bad deals seem to have come from the rest. But regardless...]

Turns out they aren't immune.

[Indeed. That's the L's point, so...]

Hm. Bad bug. How to fix?

[The L's fix is "less gummit" -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 06 Jul 2017 #permalink

Oh yes, markets good, gubmin bad. How did that work for risk assessment?

[Actually that isn't the assertion being made. At least not by me. My assertion is that assuming that the public sector will always do it better is wrong, and that always calling for more regulation as the solution is wrong -W]

From 1988, manufacturers have used accredited private testing companies to produce technical assessments of their construction products.
[The BRE was privatised in March 1997]

At Grenfell Tower, the 2012 refurb scheme was over budget, and in July 2014, [[Kensington and Chelsea TMO]] (a corporate body which took over from gubmin)

[Err, that looks like a sneaky attempt to absolve the public sector from blame by calling it "a corporate body". But it is essentially a public-sector body, no? -W]

accepted a cheaper bid from Rydon. Before Rydon engaged fire consultants, KCTMO decided to save costs by a change to "cassette fix aluminium cladding in lieu of zinc cladding", getting worse fire performance. Artelia produced the cost estimates and were acting as contract administrator, but have disclaimed any responsibility for design decisions. "Untangling responsibility for decisions on the project remains complex. The number of companies and organisations that Scotland Yard detectives investigating the disaster know so far to have played a role in the refurbishment is more than 60."

For info, on 30 June 2017, a HoC briefing was made available as a download, not sure how far it's got with the untangling...

re #149, "[Err, that looks like a sneaky attempt to absolve the public sector from blame by calling it “a corporate body”. But it is essentially a public-sector body, no? -W]"

Astutely observed! Under the UK Government's Housing (Right to Manage) Regulations 1994, tenants and leaseholders of council housing or housing association homes in the UK take over responsibility for the running of their homes by forming a [[tenant management organisation]], a corporate body which takes over from local government. Thus cutting gubmin!! While at the same time forming a new bureaucratic structure with diffuse accountability.

All part of the grand "right to buy" scheme of eliminating reasonably functional publicly owned housing, and instead creating a shortage of rented accommodation which results in gubmin paying huge sums in rent to private owners, including those who bought their council house at a huge discount.
Back towards the good old [[Peter Rachman]] days!
But this gets complicated, and I digress.

[The general housing shortage is due to government not releasing enough building land -W]

Back at #130, re #127. “[Some caution is in order, because nothing is known about these tests – or at least, I know nothing about them. Clearly, they aren’t “the standard tests applied to all panels before approval”, because if they were, they’d have failed before. Are they new tests, or what? -W]”

Yep, seems strange that the panel material was ok in the technical assessments produced by private testing company for the material's manufacturer [as #149 above] but combusted dramatically when Sky News heated a sample to 700ªC for 2 mins:

Even on 3 July, councils were getting told cladding had failed but still didn't know the test standards.. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-40480175 then at 5 that afternoon, the [private] BRE Group tweeted a link to a page explaining the testing process: http://www.bre.co.uk/grenfelltower which points to further info on a gov.uk website.
In brief, as discussed at #88 above, the English regs Approved Document B (ADB) requires cladding materials to be of "limited combustibility" in buildings which exceed 18m high. To quickly check cladding samples, the BRE tests if the core or filler in the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels meets the "limited combustibility" standards cited in ADB. One type of ADB on the market meets that standard, and others may still meet the requirements as part of a cladding system.

As of 4 July 2017, cladding on 3 NHS Trust buildings and 190 tower blocks had failed these flammability tests, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/04/three-nhs-buildings-fai… – then on 6 July, the government took advice from its expert panel, and commissioned the BRE to do large scale tests on cladding systems as a matter of urgency..
so when that's done, we'll know if safety standards can be met without evacuating and recladding all these buildings. Plans were thrown into limbo amid complaints of “unclear” advice from the government, residents not best pleased..

So, the rush to quickly test the cladding has already left a lot of people scared, though a lot depends on the whole system that's still not been tested, and on other elements such as integrity of smoke-stopping and fire resistance on escaper routes.

Reminded me of https://climatesight.org/2009/04/12/the-schneider-quote/ though it's not really the same situation.
Clearer regulations in other countries have done better, do you have a gubmin-free alternative way of achieving reasonable fire safety?

re #150, "[The general housing shortage is due to government not releasing enough building land -W]"

I don't believe you. Building land already given planning approval is hoarded in the same way as houses are kept empty for speculative investment, previous governments of all political colours were able to obtain land for a huge house-building programme which has stalled completely with the disruption caused by "right to buy" and deregulation.

[That's OK; I don't believe you, either -W]

Or perhaps you mean the government should be "releasing land" by giving away national parks and pubic open space for house building? Doesn't look environmentally sound or politically feasible.

oops, #151, "One type of ADB on the market meets that standard, and others may still meet the requirements as part of a cladding system." should be "One type of ACM on the market" etc.

Shorter version: the BRE and government have published the method of quick tests, but as it's a reference to part of a British Standard/European Standard testing method, it's obscure. Essentially, they're just testing the [plastic] core in the aluminium sandwich to see if it's of “limited combustibility” as defined in that method. So far, all have failed.

They're now doing large scale tests of the complete cladding systems, which might still meet the necessary standards, but by now everyone in these tower blocks and NHS buildings thinks they're unsafe.

There's also a need for fire assessments to be checked in all the tower blocks, both at Grenfell and most of the Camden tower blocks there were unnoticed problems with smoke stopping, fire enclosure and fire doors. And retrofitting of sprinkler systems would be a good way of keeping a lot of housing stock in use.

WC: My assertion is that assuming that the public sector will always do it better is wrong, and that always calling for more regulation as the solution is wrong -W]

Unfortunately, the way it appears to me is that anyone wanting to see better regulation gets accused of wanting "more" regulation. Also, if anyone provides an example where the private sector gets it wrong, or eliminating regulation makes things worse, you create a strawman to knock down - i.e., that their position is the one in the quote above.

I have yet to see anyone make an argument that I think means they think that public sector is always better and always calls for "more" regulation.

I do see someone that seems to think that public sector is always worse and "less" regulation is always better, though. When I asked him to clarify his position on how regulations should be developed, he seemed to just dodge the question.

By Bob Loblaw (not verified) on 11 Jul 2017 #permalink

further re #150, “[The general housing shortage is due to government not releasing enough building land -W]”

The specific here isn't "The general housing shortage", it's the shortage of homes to rent at affordable prices.

[I think that, too, is wrong. House prices rise because they are in short supply. Trying to build "affordable" homes is stupid; it is like the govt subsidising renewables instead of putting in carbon pricing -W]

Council houses were built to meet that specific need, selling them has resulted in housing benefit providing huge profits to "buy to let" owners, often for properties that were sold under "right to buy" at a huge discount.

Inflated rents [at public expense] can give an incentive to build new houses, but also contribute to house price inflation and speculation which put houses beyond the reach of most people who want to buy or rent. Government legislation has created this problem by pushing home provision out of the public sector.

However, as long as house prices rise it gives an illusion of economic prosperity.

re #154 Bob Loblaw commenting on "My assertion is that assuming that the public sector will always do it better is wrong, and that always calling for more regulation as the solution is wrong -W]" .... anyone wanting to see better regulation gets accused of wanting “more” regulation.

Indeed. Having worked in both the private sector and local government, both have their good and bad points. There's a tradition of pride in high quality public service, and putting profits first doesn't always work, but it varies. There's also the issue here of professionalism, where functions are put out to management companies without the previous professional standards.

As for better regulations, the relevant 2010 regulation is shown in AD B linked at #88 above: "External fire spread B4. (1) The external walls of the building shall adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls.."
Options to meet that regulation are set out in AD B 12.7 requiring "limited combustibility (see Appendix A)." Shown on pp. 119 and 130 as "Any material/product classified as Class A2-s3, d2 or better in accordance with BS EN 13501-1:2007". Hope that's clear! As the Lakanal House fire coroner said in 2013, AD B is "a most difficult document to use".

More complicated, and not as good as the "non-combustible" the Select Committee proposed in 1999, and required in the Scottish building standards since 2005. Why should simplifying it to a clear and effective requirement be thought of as "wanting more regulation"?

re #155 – "it’s the shortage of homes to rent at affordable prices.
> [I think that, too, is wrong. House prices rise because they are in short supply. Trying to build “affordable” homes is stupid; it is like the govt subsidising renewables instead of putting in carbon pricing -W]"

A stock of publicly owned houses for rent provided income to support house provision, and increased supply. Selling off that stock has reduced supply, contributing to speculative pressures for house price increases, in areas where there's demand.

[I don't believe that either. Do you think any of the discussion we're having re housing supplies is new or interesting? It seems to be that we're just having the std.discussion. If this is new or interesting to you I'm happy to continue, but if you're just trotting out the familiar old stuff the way I am, I can't quite see the point -W]

Agree about trying to build "affordable" homes, more sensible to spread demand by pushing work out to regions with sufficient houses. A tax on overheated areas with inadequate housing stock would be the equivalent of carbon pricing. Interesting idea.

clarification re. 157; in my reading, “affordable” homes tends to refer to houses for sale at prices only the middle classes can afford anyway. The term for affordable rented accommodation is "social housing". Where housing benefit covers rents, the saving is made by the state.

"Social housing is specially built to be let out by housing associations at below-market rents to people with low incomes". In Westminster, flats built to meet a condition of planning approval were allocated to Grenfell survivors, causing a media storm about them getting supposed "luxury flats". http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/grenfe…