120 UK towers fail fire tests; manufacturer pulls cladding

The cladding on 120 high-rise buildings in England has now failed fire safety tests, the UK prime minister said today as the fire safety crisis continued to mount.

Theresa May told Parliament it was still a 100% failure rate, as all of the samples submitted so far since the Grenfell Tower fire had failed.

With such a failure rate, the number of failures is certain to keep rising as tests proceed on an estimated 600 residential towers with cladding needing to be checked.

Hospitals, universities and schools are now coming under the safety spotlight as well.

Meanwhile, the manufacturer of the cladding material used at Grenfell Tower has said it is pulling the product from sale worldwide for high rise blocks.

New panel of experts

May urged local authorities and housing associations to "get on with the fire safety checks", reports the BBC.

At least 79 people are feared dead after London’s Grenfell Tower blaze on 14 June. May told MPs that she expects to name a judge to head a public inquiry into that disaster soon.

With the test failure rate absolute, the government separately yesterday said a new expert advisory panel had been formed to advise on emergency measures to make buildings safe.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said the Panel would be made up of a range of building and fire safety experts, chaired by Sir Ken Knight, former London Fire Commissioner and former Government Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser.

Other core panel members are Dr Peter Bonfield, chief executive of the Building Research Establishment (BRE), which is carrying out the cladding fire tests, and Amanda Clack, President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Hospitals and universities

Elsewhere, nine NHS hospitals at risk from cladding have been identified for "intensive support", The Health Service Journal reports.

Emergency checks have now identified as many as 30 healthcare trusts with "category one" risks, meaning they have materials similar to those used on Grenfell Tower.

More than 17,000 care homes, hospices and private hospitals have been told to check their fire safety procedures, reports The Times.

Universities are also hit by the crisis. According to The Times, Newcastle University confirmed that a privately run student accommodation build, St James’ Point, which opened two years ago, had the same flammable cladding as Grenfell’s.

Bournemouth University and Edinburgh Napier University said they had found similar types of cladding at student halls.

UK schools minister Nick Gibb said that all school buildings taller than four storeys were being checked.

Product pulled

In related developments, the manufacturer of the cladding material used at Grenfell Tower has said it is pulling the product from sale worldwide for high rise blocks.

Arconic, formerly called Alcoa, said it would now discontinue global sales of Reynobond PE for use in high-rise applications. This cladding board is composed of flammable polyethylene sandwiched between two aluminium skins.

The cladding panels are a key focus of the police investigation into the rapid spread of fire across the exterior of Grenfell Tower.

The firm also produces a fire-rated aluminium composite material (ACM), Reynobond FR, which uses a fire retardant mineral central core.

It is not known if Arconic’s product was used to clad all buildings that failed the fire tests.

A spokesman said: "We believe this is the right decision because of the inconsistency of building codes across the world and issues that have arisen in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy regarding code compliance of cladding systems in the context of buildings’ overall designs.

"We will continue to fully support the authorities as they investigate this tragedy."

Image: Grenfell Tower still burning at 4.43am on 14 June 2017, London (Natalie Oxford/CC 4.0)

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  1. A BREEAM rated building doesn’t save lives. The money spent on consultants to achieve this needs to be spent on fire safety as a first priority in the future. BRE need to incorporate safety into the certification.

  2. One of Peter Bonfields biggest revenue streams at BRE is the revenue they get from product manufacturer fire tests, not to mention research projects etc and now he is on this ‘independent’ expert government panel. No conflict of interest here! Is that why these quick and dirty ‘comustibility’ tests are being carried out behind closed doors….to protect clients? Why not conduct the proper recognised fire safety tests? Possibly because the manufacturers have already passed these at the BRE, so that wouldn’t suit the Government agenda which needs to lay blame. And replicating the fire safety tests that manufacturers have passed, by testing product from buildings i.e. product bought on the open market….well if some of those tests were to fail, it would be somewhat awkward for the BRE. Just a private personal opinion. But now is the time for industry transparency

  3. Guilty as charged on how many counts

  4. We manufacture Architectural Glazing Systems… Windows, Doors & Curtain Walling, plus I worked in marketing and selling Medium & High Rise Cladding Systems some years ago.
    One of the problems that suppliers are up against, is simply that regardless of the specifications stated in Tender Documents, we often lose projects on price. There is always an individual; or Company; who will run the risk of failure to meet the requirements by quoting for cheaper, or inferior products.
    It’s surely time that when A + B + C x XYZ is requested, Buyers should stick rigidly to that specification… it’s not rocket science, it’s asked for because that’s what’s needed. Whether external cladding looks ‘pretty’ or not is immaterial, surely the issue in question is whether it’s suitable for the job, or not, as the case may be.
    Gerard Case
    MD – Advanced Building & Environmental Technologies Ltd.

  5. I doubt whether the two products / aluminium sandwich panel with polyethylene core and PIR insulation have been tested together! My experience with PIR is that it is self extinguishing as long as a source of ignition – such as a flame is removed! When you then have a polyethylene sandwich panel continuing to exist, you continue to have a burning insulation panel.
    We should also have access to the full retest reports on combustibility and flammability, some test criteria and sample arrangements I have seen have the sample mounted such that the core melts out of the test rig limits thus having a “non combustible” report issued, the long form report included a statement to the effect that the results could be regarded as suspect!
    The buikding design and later modifications are that the spandrel separating the floors vertically, should prevent fire spread vertically. Now where we install a flammable / combustible cladding to the spandrel, its existence compromises the design.
    Close examination of the Grenfell building pictures showed complete burnout of each floor. If the building had been sprinkler protected, fire spread in the first instance from a lower floor to a higher one may not have happened – as shown in the Melbourne, Dubai and other cladding fires,
    One final comment is that the uPVC window frames added additional combustible npnaterials.

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