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RCI March 2018

INSULATION Project1_Layout 1 07/05/2013 The Independent Review of Building Regulations and fire safety should be a pivot point to a safer built environment, but the interim report by Dame Judith Hackitt, which was published in December 2017, disappoints on multiple fronts. The report makes no urgent recommendations on improving the standards of materials we use on high-rise buildings, despite the role combustible cladding and insulation played in the Grenfell Tower fire. Instead, the interim review banks on industry-led “culture change” of the industry itself, alongside another industry-led effort to reform the failed “test-and-study” approach to building safety that dominates today. The stakeholder summit that was held recently has made encouraging noises, but it still relies fundamentally on industry self-regulation to protect public safety. At best, this means tinkering with the status quo when a thorough overhaul is required. At worst, it lays the foundation for another Grenfell. A lack of strong prescriptive regulations gave us BS 8414 tests that don’t reflect real-life construction conditions and desktop studies that fill the gaps based on someone’s opinion. The BS 8414, which the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) (now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) (MHCLG) has used to guide local authorities, lets manufacturers paying for testing their own materials determine key parameters within the test – which can have a direct bearing on the pass/fail outcome. Consider the post-Grenfell fire tests the DCLG commissioned the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to conduct. Entirely acceptable under BS 8414 standards, the tests placed all-important horizontal fire barriers directly below thermocouples (basically hightech thermometers), measuring the heat generated by the fire. If the temperature rises by a certain amount within the first 15 minutes, the system fails the test. Placing the fire barrier below the thermocouple naturally protects it from the flames and heat - an interesting way one could influence the test result. What’s more, the DCLG tests included substantially more horizontal and vertical fire barriers than one would see on a typical 056 MARCH 2018 RCIMAG.COM Less bureaucracy, more safety: overhauling the system that led to Grenfell By Gilles Maria, senior vice president, head of insulation south west Europe and insulation Asia, at ROCKWOOL building. In the 6.5 metres above the fire chamber in the DCLG tests, for example, there were four horizontal fire barriers – that’s one every 1.6 metres on average, exceeding typical practice of barriers at every floor level. On the 4.0-metre-wide total vertical surface space, the DCLG tests included three vertical fire barriers, whereas in accordance with UK building guidance, one would typically see vertical barriers every ten to 20 metres. Plenty of fire barriers, but no windows or ventilation openings, which would be naturally present on real buildings. All this is entirely permissible under the current industrydesigned “test-and-study” regime. How does this testing regime work in practice? In the UK, BS 8414 tests are run by the BRE, which charges for each test. Manufacturers can keep testing systems until they pass. When the manufacturer commissioning the testing gets a pass result, it can take that to local councils, landlords, or building owners as a safe system. They have no obligation to disclose how many times the system they are marketing may have failed the test, or to disclose the specific design details of the test it passed. But industry self-regulation gets worse still. As it’s impossible to test every façade system combination, the industry devised desktop studies that allow companies to hire a private consultant to proffer an opinion on whether a proposed system would be safe in a fire. In these studies, “Public safety requires more than building regulation by the industry for the industry. The public deserves government leadership to safeguard people’s lives and the buildings where they live, learn, work, and heal” one is not required to use any directly relevant test data. Nor is there any requirement to publish the results, and the public has no legal right to see them. Such is the industry-led “test-andstudy” system the Hackitt Review interim report seemingly wants to tweak. Public safety requires more than building regulation by the industry for the industry. The public deserves government leadership to safeguard people’s lives and the buildings where they live, learn, work and heal. Dame Judith rightly highlights the need for simple, unambiguous regulations. She can help meet that standard by recommending regulations that simply and unambiguously require noncombustible cladding and insulation on mid- and high-rise, as well as sensitive and high-occupancy buildings. Less bureaucracy, less cost, more safety. www.rockwool.co.uk Gilles Maria, senior vice president, head of insulation south west Europe and insulation Asia, at ROCKWOOL


RCI March 2018
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