ABI-commissioned research discovers serious failures in building material fire tests

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Research commissioned by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has discovered serious inadequacies in the laboratory tests currently used to check the fire safety of building materials in the wake of Grenfell.

The Fire Protection Association (FPA) carried out a series of experiments that recreated more realistic building conditions than those in which the standard tests are done, in an effort to measure what difference these factors could make in the event of a fire.

According to the FPA’s research, the real-life factors overlooked by the official testing regime include:

  • Test fires that are only made up of wood. In modern blazes, around 20% of the materials involved are plastic
  • Cladding materials are sometimes tested as a sealed unit, whereas when fitted on a building they often include gaps, and cover a far more extensive area
  • Materials tested will be in manufacturer condition, but during their actual use will often be pierced by things such as vents or ducts

In its submission to the independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, which is being led by Dame Judith Hackitt and was launched in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire that took the lives of 71 residents in 2017, the ABI called for an end to the use of all but non-combustible materials in construction, and a reformed testing regime that replicates real world conditions to provide genuine evidence of how materials perform in a fire.

The results of these latest tests all reinforce the importance of urgent reform, the ABI said.

Huw Evans, director general of the ABI, commented: “Dame Judith Hackitt’s important work post-Grenfell has already recognised the building control system is broken. This latest research is yet more evidence that fundamental reform is needed to keep our homes and commercial premises safe from fire. It is a matter of urgency that we create the right testing regime that properly replicates real world conditions and keeps pace with building innovation and modern design.”

Jonathan O’Neill, managing director of the FPA, said: “The results of this important research confirm long-held concerns by many in the fire sector that the current cladding test standard requires urgent review to ensure that systems that pass are reflective of the systems that are installed and of the risks to which they are exposed.”

“We urge BSI (British Standards Institution) to urgently reconvene the group responsible for this standard to consider the results of this research and to make changes to the standard as required.”

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk