Project1_Layout 1 07/05/2013 CLADDING & SHEETING
Building regulations and fire safety:
why the construction industry needs to get it right
Vivalda Group’s managing director Ben Jayes is optimistic about the changes that the much-anticipated report from Dame Judith Hackitt could
bring about in the construction sector. However, he thinks the fragmented nature of the industry could cause unexpected challenges
If a national poll was taken on the relative
credibility of key industries, it’s likely
that construction would come somewhere
towards the bottom of the league. Compared
to sectors such as engineering, technology
and science, it has to be said our stock is pretty
low right now.
The industry is officially in recession, having
endured three successive quarters of ‘negative
growth’, as economists like to phrase it. The
disastrous collapse of Carillion in January
revealed the extent of poor management practice
in a business that should have known better. And
though Grenfell will leave a permanent scar,
there is now a perceptible willingness to learn
and adapt, so that a similar catastrophe could
never happen again.
Clearly, the UK’s construction industry
is not in a great place. With such low
credibility right now, the outcome of the final
Hackitt Report, which is due imminently, is
vital. Not only do we need clear and robust
recommendations, but also an appropriate
response from the industry.
Indeed, since the dreadful events of June 14
last year, architects, specifiers, contractors and
suppliers have had little guidance or clarity on
fire safety with regards to cladding systems. As
a distributor of façades and cladding systems,
our data suggests that the industry has become
much more risk averse, utilising A2 or above
fire-retardant materials wherever possible.
However, independent, clear guidance on which
cladding products conform to which fire rating
standards has been complex and opaque for
For our part, last year we produced a
comprehensive Fire Rating Guide on our website,
offering independent advice on fire-rated
cladding systems, but we can’t go on shouldering
the burden on our own. Leadership is required
from the very top. Choosing an approved
cladding system shouldn’t rely on the customer
doing their own research.
There is also strong anecdotal evidence to
suggest that major suppliers to the cladding
market are dropping non-tested components
from their range, as demonstrated by Vivalda
Group’s recent decision to supply only A2 rated
aluminium composite product on projects over
18m in height.
Furthermore, there are signs that there has
been a rush to fire testing of products – with
the likes of BBA and WinTech reporting full
order books for their services over the past
few months. The post-Grenfell period has
led to much more open consultation within
the industry, which has led to market leaders
038 MAY 2018 RCIMAG.COM
such as Vivalda Group reaching out to build
relationships with highly regarded testing
outfits such as WinTech.
Such engagement, albeit informal at this
stage, is a good sign that the industry at large
sees a need for more joined up thinking where
cladding performance and safety is concerned.
What is the industry looking for from Hackitt?
Clear, robust regulations on the building and fire
regulations – as well as strong and consistent
enforcement is what we’re all hoping to see this
spring. However, as is often the case, the devil
will be in the detail.
The complex, inevitably fragmented nature of
cladding systems also deserves specific attention
here. The regulations need to cover more than
simply the panels. Attention needs to be given
to complete cladding systems, which includes
fixings, sub-frames and insulation.
Cladding systems are exactly that – complex
solutions that by their very nature are not simple
to regulate, given the many hundreds of potential
manufacturers involved in supplying materials
that go to formulate a rainscreen cladding system.
While widespread and comprehensive testing
of all parts that go to make up complete cladding
systems should be part of the solution, so should
clarity and access to information for specifiers.
We need to make safety paramount, but also not
onerous for those involved in recommending the
right cladding solution.
Retrospective testing is another potential
area of concern, given the fact that 149 high-rise
buildings in the UK failed fire safety tests in the
wake of Grenfell*. Once the Hackitt Report is
published and a clear safety standard is made
public, how will cash-strapped councils afford
such fundamental renovation work? How quickly
should the work be done? And who will be
responsible for checking the quality of the retrofitted
cladding? These are all questions that need
to be answered as part of the report.
Without a detailed, holistic approach to
regulations and safety, we could be treading
water for years to come. Despite its current
difficulties, we must never forget how proud we
are to work in one of the nation’s best industries.
But what construction needs is clarity and vision –
something that will give a clear signal to the wider
world that our ‘can-do’ industry is able to provide
the safe homes we all have a right to live in.
*The Independent newspaper – June 30, 2017.
Left: Ben Jayes, managing
director of Vivalda Group
The image above shows Hallsville Quarter in Canning
Town, London. For this project, Vivalda Group’s
company Pura Facades supplied non-flammable Rieder
glass reinforced concrete panels