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Report challenges adequacy of large scale fire safety tests 26/04/2018

Cladding tests carried out for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have conflicted with the results of the government's post-Grenfell cladding tests but the Independent Expert Panel set up by Government respond saying the current British Standard test is a robust test.

 

Research conducted on behalf of the insurance industry in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire has challenged the adequacy of the large scale fire safety tests currently used to check the fire safety of cladding systems & building materials.

 

The ABI commissioned the Fire Protection Association (FPA) to carry out a series of controlled experiments recreating what they say are more realistic building conditions than those in which the standard tests are done, in an effort to measure what difference these factors could make in the event of a fire. The report by the FPA highlights a number of factors which they say are overlooked by the official test used by the Government including:

 

  • Test fires which are only made up of wood. In modern blazes, around 20% of the materials involved are plastic.

 

  • Cladding materials are sometimes tested as a sealed unit, whereas when fitted on a building they often include gaps, and cover a far more extensive area.

 

  • Materials tested will be in manufacturer condition, but during their actual use will often be pierced by things such as vents or ducts.

 

In launching the report, Huw Evans, Director General of the ABI, said:

 

"Dame Judith Hackitt's important work post-Grenfell has already recognised the building control system is broken. This latest research is yet more evidence that fundamental reform is needed to keep our homes and commercial premises safe from fire. It is a matter of urgency that we create the right testing regime that properly replicates real world conditions and keeps pace with building innovation and modern design."

 

Following publication of the ABI/FPA report the Government appointed Independent Expert Panel, appointed to advise on the immediate safety action following the Grenfell fire, issued a statement saying the current British Standard 8414 test is a robust test under which a wall with a complete cladding system - including panels and insulation - fixed to it, is subject to a fire that replicates a severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window and whether it then spreads up the outside wall.  

 

ARCH Chief Executive John Bibby comments:

 

"No doubt Dame Judith Hackitt will take these matters into consideration in her Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety but whatever the technical arguments about the detailed methodology for conducting large scale fire safety tests, this does not take away from the need for such tests.

 

The mere fact that there are these technical arguments about the methodology for conducting large scale fire safety tests reinforces the argument that such tests (in whatever final form may be agreed by the Hackitt Review) are needed and  'desk top studies' have no place in assessing the fire safety of cladding systems and in the meantime ARCH will respond to the recent Government a consultation paper on restricting or banning the use of 'desktop studies'."

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