Dublin, Ireland – On the day that the inquiry in to the Grenfell Tower fire which claimed 80 lives got underway, Gene Murtagh, CEO Kingspan has called for changes in the way that cladding is tested, specified installed and monitored during construction in the UK.
Speaking in Building Magazine, Murtagh said: ‘As far as I am aware [polyethylene cored Aluminium Composite Material] ACMs have never been successfully tested in a cladding system in a manner consistent with building regulations, so it is hard to understand how this product was ever used on Grenfell Tower.
He continued: ‘Similarly, given the fire performance characteristics of these PCM cladding panels, it is no surprise in my view that they performed so poorly in combination with a range of insulation types in the recent series of large-scale tests.
‘Trusting and simplistic classifications for materials based on small-scale testing is not the solution. The reality is that a whole range of factors will affect fire safety including the design of cavity barriers, fixing used and the cavity width. We must improve our knowledge of how all these different elements interact. As any fire expert knows, even (non-combustible) are still capable of burning and, in isolation, are no guarantee of what constitutes fire safe building.
Murtagh said that there are four areas where he believes changes could be made for the better.
Firstly, large-scale fire testing under BS 8414 ‘should be extended to cover all cladding systems. This is irrespective of whether they include combustible, non-combustible or limited-combustibility components,’ he said; adding, ‘system testing is crucial to understand the way of all materials in a roof or wall interact each other.
He added that ‘the fact that both PIR and mineral fibre insulation failed the recent tests in combination with a PE cored ACM demonstrates that relying on a “non-combustible” label is not enough. The focus needs to shift to a systems-based approach.’
Secondly, he called for a ‘public register of all approved desktop studies, setting mandatory qualifications for those performing the studies and better prescription of what test data can and cannot be considered in the production of such a study.’ He added that desk top studies are going to continue to be important because performing large-scale tests on every possible combination of materials is impractical.
The third change following Grenfell is in training provided for installers. ‘I believe that fire safety considerations should be incorporated into all training courses involving modern facade construction. And only accredited installers should be allowed to work on facade construction projects,’ he said.
Finally, he called for better control of fire safety through design and construction process. ‘There is no point in developing regulations unless we rigorously police that regulations are being enforced. Ensuring that fire safety is kept front and centre throughout the process as a challenge,’ Murtagh said.
He added that the Royal Institute of British architects plan of work, which orbits fire safety is a good model but ‘building control or approved inspectors should have to ensure what is built matches the approved design.’