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Anger Lingers in Industry Post Grenfell Fire

Thursday, July 6, 2017

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Industry professionals in the United Kingdom and beyond are expressing frustration as more cladding samples are failing and a task force is set up to oversee immediate safety decisions across the country.

The testing comes weeks after a fire ripped through London’s Grenfell Tower, a 24-story apartment building, which killed at least 80 people. Though the fire was believed to have been started accidentally when a kitchen appliance caught fire, the blaze spread rapidly through the exterior of the building.

Composite aluminum panels with a polyethylene core (Reynobond PE) are being blamed for the fire's quick spread and resulted in the testing of other high-rise buildings that were renovated similarly to Grenfell.

As of Monday (July 3) all 181 high-rise cladding samples that have been tested failed fire safety tests. The number of buildings tested and failed has doubled in recent weeks as results come in, and the number is expected to rise as the BRE Group is still testing public and privately owned buildings. And on Wednesday (July 5) the building opposite Grenfell was evacuated over fire safety concerns.


Since the fire, industry professionals have been speaking out against the cost-cutting culture in the U.K., noting that oftentimes safe and sound designs are changed to maximize profit. In the case of Grenfell, fire-resistant materials were specified for the project, but the polyethylene core was order instead to save money, investigations show.

"Arms are twisted, designers scoffed at for raising concerns and the contracting industry incentivizes itself to continually cut cost and maximize margins at all costs," said Neil Deely of Metropolitan Works studio in an interview.

"Armies of project managers, whose task it is to manage risk (which usually means financial and program risk rather than health and safety) drive down cost and quality to meet unrealistic budgets and/or shareholders' expectations of profit," he said.

Safety Panel

While the Royal Institute of British Architects has called for a review of the country’s fire regulations, members of RIBA were left out of the safety panel that’s been put in place to advise on measures for the residents in the increasing number of tower blocks to fail fire safety tests.

While a number of fire-related officials are on the panel—it’s being led by Ken Knight, ex-London Fire Commissioner and former government chief fire and rescue advisor—there isn’t an architect to be found.

“One of the issues to be opened up is the loss of the architect’s authority in the building process,” said former RIBA vice president Richard Saxon. “Supervision is largely a dead service and specification change by the contractor, often after approval of regulations, is normal.

“This whole disastrous event has layers of relevance to the industry and its professions,” he said.

While the omission of an architect on the panel is raising voices, RIBA has insisted that it is in “regular contact with ministers and civil servants” and has made recommendations to the communities secretary.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Aluminum; Architects; Cladding; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Fatalities; Fire; Good Technical Practice

Comment from Drake Wauters, (7/6/2017, 3:14 AM)

I saw online that the new windows were relocated to outside the old building face during the work. If this is accurate, how was the plastic insulating foam protected from the interior of the space as required in some codes? The cladding issues are exterior. If flammable spray foam is being used inside larger buildings without thermal barriers to help prevent ignition, is there an even larger problem in the industry and is this worldwide?

Comment from Jesse Melton, (7/6/2017, 9:11 AM)

" materials were specified for the project, but the polyethylene core was order instead".
What is the intended use of the polyethylene cladding?

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (7/6/2017, 10:11 AM)

Polyethylene core cladding was the exterior skin of the building.

Comment from Adam Carter, (7/6/2017, 10:34 AM)

The polyethylene cladding is still intended for exterior cladding of buildings (small scale commercial, low rise condo buildings, etc). The fire resistant products have a very similar makeup, with a different core, but although it would be great if only that was used, as the article says, cost is king... I was in Dubai the week before the Torch cladding fire in 2015, to not have fire resistant cladding on a building like that seems like a poor idea

Comment from John Dalton, (7/6/2017, 3:15 PM)

The problem is not limited to the UK. We see far too many non- or semi- code compliant products being used to provide a fire-rating for steel , foamed plastic and other substrates in North America.

Comment from Phil Kabza, (7/7/2017, 3:32 PM)

I have not seen a clear statement in print over whether or not there was a cavity insulation installed as part of the building recladding in addition to the aluminum skin and PE panels. Does anyone have reliable information about this question? The PE panels are ubiquitous in the US, and can serve very well as cladding for low rise buildings easily accessed by firefighting equipment. The problem comes from several factors, including the lack of intermittent fire blocking and the use of this cladding in high-rise situations where it simply is inappropriate.

Comment from Michael Quaranta, (7/11/2017, 1:04 PM)

I was puzzled to see one of the upper floor pictures after the fire. Then I read the comment regarding the strange position of the dual-glazed windows. Look at those photos again! The windows were completely gone, no frame left in the opening. So the iinstaltion specification allowed an over-hung moment for the heavy dual glazed windows? Were the windows supported by the cladding? Here's another question: What was the noise like during the fire with all of those windows hitting the ground below? Someone needs to review that debris. I'll bet the fire department did not get close because of the huge amount of falling glass (?). Yes, the real proble is solvent and consensus specifications.

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