Cladding Systems Fail New Tests, UK to Review
After more than 80 towers failed revamped fire tests in the United Kingdom, officials say they’re going to review building regulations and fire safety.
The announcement comes just a day after a letter from the Metropolitan Police—written to the families of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14—came to light saying they had “reasonable grounds to suspect” that organizations managing the high-rise might have committed corporate manslaughter.
Some leaders have since come out in support of law enforcement, including Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.
“We welcome the police investigation into Grenfell,” Abbott said. “It is right that this terrible incident and huge loss of life is fully investigated, including for legal culpability. Those responsible must be held to account for their actions, and their neglect.”
The police letter sent to survivors said that after the initial assessment, corporate manslaughter is suspected under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which says that companies and corporations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter if a person’s death is caused by a gross breach of the corporation’s duties. The punishment is a fine.
The Health and Safety Executive (and independent body that oversees work-released issues) said if convicted the company or organization could face “unlimited fines,” according to The New York Times, and would be mandated to remedy the situation that led to a death.
In addition to the investigation of the fatal fire itself, the cladding of hundreds of high-rises similar to Grenfell was tested for fire safety. In the middle of July, after all 200 samples had failed, the tests were expanded beyond just the same aluminum composite material used in Grenfell.
Testing was previously limited to the core of the panels, and not the structure as a whole. It was then decided that six ACM systems would be analyzed with a variety of insulations. The testing of both materials together is in accordance with the British Standard 8414.
“This involves building a 9-meter-tall demonstration wall with a complete cladding system—including panels and insulation—fixed to it, and then subjecting it to a fire that replicates a severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window and whether it then spread up the outside wall,” the Department for Communities and Local Government said in a statement at that time.
The systems incorporated the three common types of aluminum composite material panels, with core filler materials of unmodified polyethylene, fire-retardant polyethylene and non-combustible mineral. The insulation materials used in the testing will be rigid polyisocyanurate foam or non-combustible mineral wool.
Officials say the independent review of building regulations will be led by engineer Dame Judith Hackitt, of the Manufacturers’ Organization. The review will examine the regulatory system around design, construction and management of buildings in relation to fire safety; compliance and enforcement of issues; and international regulation and experience.
The investigation will report to Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, who said the regulations “needed to be looked at urgently.”
"This independent review will ensure we can swiftly make any necessary improvements,” Javid said. “Government is determined to make sure that we learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and to ensure nothing like it can happen again."
Terms of reference for the review will be published this summer, an interim report is expected before the end of 2017 and the final report should be published by spring 2018.