Tower fire: key safety tests query

Firms fail to re­spond to in­quiries

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - TOM BER­GIN REUTERS

THE CLADDING used on Lon­don’s Gren­fell Tower would only have met Bri­tish reg­u­la­tory stan­dards if the two main ma­te­ri­als had passed a key safety test to­gether, ac­cord­ing to a Reuters anal­y­sis of the build­ing code and data on the ma­te­ri­als.

Three weeks af­ter the June 14 fire, nei­ther the two com­pa­nies in­volved in the cladding on the Gren­fell Tower nor the lo­cal author­ity which en­forces the build­ing codes have ad­dressed ques­tions from Reuters about whether that test was ever con­ducted and its out­come.

The test is re­quired to show whether both ma­te­ri­als when used to­gether were suf­fi­ciently re­sis­tant to com­bus­tion. With­out proof that it had been car­ried out, the cladding sys­tem would not have met build­ing reg­u­la­tions.

The cladding work car­ried by Ry­don Group Ltd, the main con­trac­tor on the 2014-2016 re­fur­bish­ment of the build­ing, and its sub­con­trac­tor Har­ley Façades, in­volved at­tach­ing in­su­la­tion boards to the tower’s con­crete façade and cov­er­ing them with alu­minium com­pos­ite pan­els.

France’s Saint Gobain said the in­su­la­tion used was its brand of poly­iso­cya­nu­rate (PIR) called Celo­tex RS5000. The alu­minum pan­els, which had a poly­eth­yl­ene plas­tic core, were called Reynobond PE and made by New York-based Ar­conic Inc, pre­vi­ously known as Al­coa Inc.

If all the el­e­ments of the in­su­la­tion sys­tem had achieved a sep­a­rate and de­mand­ing gov­ern­ment stan­dard called “limited com­bustibil­ity”, in sep­a­rate tests, then a com­bined test would not have been nec­es­sary, ac­cord­ing to the build­ing reg­u­la­tions.

But Reynobond PE and Celo­tex did not meet the com­bustibil­ity test by them­selves, ac­cord­ing to safety ex­perts and prod­uct spec­i­fi­ca­tions pub­lished by the man­u­fac­tur­ers.

This meant that the two ma­te­ri­als com­bined would need to pass an­other test known as the BS 8414 test, ac­cord­ing to the build­ing reg­u­la­tions. This in­volves set­ting a fire un­der a three-storey mock-up of the pro­posed wall con­struc­tion.

Both stan­dards, set out in the guide­lines to the build­ing code, aim to pre­vent a fire spread­ing quickly from in­side and up the ex­te­rior walls, some­thing that hap­pened at Gren­fell Tower.

In a June 29 e-mail, a Ry­don Group spokesper­son says it “met all build­ing reg­u­la­tions” but did not say if the BS 8414 test stip­u­lated in the build­ing codes had been con­ducted.

The build­ing con­trol depart­ment of the lo­cal Royal Bor­ough of Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea coun­cil, re­spon­si­ble for check­ing the build­ing and plans are con­sis­tent with reg­u­la­tions, de­clined to say if it had checked the tests had been car­ried out.

Po­lice think the cladding sys­tem at Gren­fell Tower may have con­trib­uted to the rapid spread of last month’s fa­tal fire. They have said they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing pos­si­ble crim­i­nal be­hav­iour and the role of all the com­pa­nies in­volved in the build­ing.

The Depart­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, which is re­spon­si­ble for set­ting the reg­u­la­tions en­forced by build­ing con­trol, has said the cladding sys­tem used at Gren­fell did not com­ply with the build­ing rules it over­sees. It has not said why and de­clined to an­swer de­tailed ques­tions on its le­gal rea­son­ing.

The test used to as­sess com­bined ma­te­ri­als must be com­mis­sioned from a gov­ern­ment ap­proved in­de­pen­dent test­ing agency. Reuters was un­able to de­ter­mine which, if any lab was used.

Ry­don, which had a turnover of £249 mil­lion last year, said the ma­te­ri­als it used were suit­able for use in tall build­ings. “Lab­o­ra­tory test­ing of the fire re­sis­tance of the cladding sys­tem used at Gren­fell Tower was car­ried out prior to in­stal­la­tion. Please see at­tached BBA cer­tifi­cate,” the spokesper­son said in the June 29 e-mail.

The cer­tifi­cate Ry­don pro­vided showed the pan­els met a sep­a­rate stan­dard on the sur­face spread of fire. Asked specif­i­cally about the BS 8414 test, the spokesper­son said: “More tech­ni­cal ques­tions would be bet­ter di­rected at Har­ley as it’s their area of ex­per­tise.”

Ex­ec­u­tives and a spokesper­son at Har­ley, a small com­pany with few as­sets, de­clined to com­ment for this story. – Reuters

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