After Grenfell Tower disaster, more fire unsafety in England

Ths video from Britain says about itself:

25 August 2017

Cladding on more than 200 buildings found to be unsafe

A series of fire safety tests designed to probe cladding systems on high-rise towers have concluded, finding 228 buildings at risk across the UK, the government said.

In the final raft of assessments, ordered in the wake of the Grenfell Tower inferno, a combination of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding with a limited flammability filling and stone-wool insulation was deemed safe.

No buildings in the UK are known to have this mixture of materials, but the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said it could act as a solution for structures with dangerous cladding.

By Steve James in Britain:

UK: 228 high-rise buildings fail mock-up fire tests post-Grenfell

29 August 2017

Tests on the fire resistance of aluminium cladding systems in England currently suggest that at least 228 high-rise buildings, over 18 metres in height, are potential death traps.

The tests, carried out on behalf of the British government by the British Research Establishment (BRE), are the latest in a hastily arranged series following the catastrophic June 14 fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London, which killed at least 80 people.

The tests involved a large-scale test fire on an aluminium composite material (ACM) filled with retardant polyethylene installed with phenolic foam board insulation. Twenty-two buildings are known to use this specific type of cladding, adding to the 206 buildings clad with ACM using differing types of filler and insulation. So far, of systems installed, only those with fire retardant ACM and mineral wool insulation have passed the tests.

No complete list of the buildings involved has been publicly provided, but all are likely residential tower blocks, each housing hundreds of working people and run either by housing associations or local authorities. The government is reported as having informed the buildings’ owners and recommended remedial measures. If the experience of evacuated residents in London’s Chalcots Estate is a guide, emergency measures amounted to improving fire doors and installing fire stopping measures between flats and floors, and unblocking stairwell ventilation. An unknown number of low-rise and private sector buildings may use the same dangerous combinations of materials.

The current set of tests is the second conducted on ACM cladding. In the days following the disaster, Conservative Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid offered free testing of ACM samples to landlords. Initially as many as 530 buildings were thought to have ACM cladding, but early investigations reduced the number to 259, including 240 public sector residential blocks. Landlords were encouraged to submit two 250 x 250 mm ACM samples for testing by the BRE. Of samples eventually submitted, all failed. The test that generated the extraordinary 100 percent failure rate was authenticated as sound by the Sweden Research Institute.

In July, Javid told Parliament that thus far only the core of the ACM panel was being tested. In response, housing authorities and fire safety commentators demanded supposedly more representative test methods in which a mock-up of a full cladding installation, including the ACM panel, the insulation and fire stopping, should be used. Concerns were raised that potentially safe systems were in danger of being removed from buildings.

Hoping, no doubt, for a meaningful reduction in the number of dangerous buildings, Javid called for the new tests, of which six of seven have now been completed by the BRE. But only 13 of 241 buildings covered by the more realistic test have passed, arguably a more devastating outcome than the initial tests, and exposing a regulatory collapse of unprecedented proportions.

Every single one of the cladding systems now being exposed as deadly had previously been signed off as safe. How can this be?

Responsibility lies with all the major political parties, and successive governments, who over the last three decades have embraced deregulation and privatisation and the subordination of public health and safety to private profit. There are many aspects of this revealed by Grenfell.

In England now, following years of erosion, there is no unified regime of building inspection run by local authorities retaining any degree of independence from the building companies. Nor is there an arm of government tasked with overseeing building standards.

Rather, building contractors themselves can hire an “Approved Inspector,” whose job is not to ensure adherence to a strict set of “prescriptive” standards but to follow looser “functional” guidelines assumed to be needed for building safety. A host of private and semi-private organisations, such as the Building Control Alliance (BCA), have sprung up to exploit the regulatory vagueness and loopholes regarding the materials that can be used in any given set of circumstances.

The BCA advised on three mechanisms whereby a cladding system could be approved, in line with building regulations which stated that external insulation should be of “limited combustibility,” defined as “A2.” Option 1 stipulated that all the component materials could simply be of A2 combustibility resistance or better. Option 2 proposed a fire test be set up, that could include inferior products, but if the fire test was deemed safe all was well. Option 3, clearly the easiest, involved a “desktop” study where cladding materials could be deemed safe without any tests and without any specified combustibility standards merely on the basis of considering similar scenarios. No records of these studies were required to be kept.

Even more reckless were guidelines issued, now withdrawn, by the National House Building Council (NHBC), another private body, closely tied to the building industry, which issues insurance to house builders and offers building inspection advice. According to the BBC, the NHBC simply decided that sub-A2 materials were acceptable based on a review of a “significant quantity of data from a range of tests and desktop assessments.”

Perhaps most seriously, the BRE, the organisation most directly responsible for fire testing and providing fire safety advice, has itself been compromised. The BRE was established in 1921 as an arm of the civil service tasked with improving house quality. Over the years, the organisation established itself as a reputable, state-funded source of building and fire safety advice, with a degree of independence from the building materials and construction companies. Privatised in 1997, the BRE has subsequently sought to establish itself as a global brand for sale of fire safety advice, drawing in revenue from the very organisations whose products and operations it should be policing.

In 2016, the BRE issued a report, “External Fire Spread,” following studies commissioned by Javid’s Department of Communities and Local Government into the dangers of cladding fires.

The report, clearly intended to silence growing alarm, is cynical and complacent. The authors complained that high-rise flat fires are “visually impressive, high-profile and attract media attention.” To avoid the fuss, unsuitable cladding materials should be dealt with “as part of the fire safety risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [12] …”

This order, passed under the Labour government of Tony Blair, removed fire safety responsibly from the Fire Service and allowed anyone to set themselves up as a fire risk assessor, regardless of skills, experience or qualifications. In 2010, fire assessor Carl Stokes won the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chealsea fire assessment contract, including Grenfell Tower, by undercutting rivals Salvus Consulting. Stokes was praised at the time for his willingness to “challenge the Fire Brigade … if he considered their requirements to be excessive.”

Part one of the BRE report concludes with the assertion: “With the exception of one or two unfortunate but rare cases, there is currently no evidence from these investigations to suggest that the current recommendations, to limit vertical fire spread up the exterior of high-rise buildings, are failing in their purpose.”

UK: Salford residents challenge Labour Council over fire risks revealed by Grenfell Tower: here.

9 thoughts on “After Grenfell Tower disaster, more fire unsafety in England

  1. Tuesday 29th August 2017

    Years of cuts have left the Scottish fire and rescue service dangerously understaffed, with over 700 front-line firefighters’ jobs lost since 2013, says DENISE CHRISTIE

    THE morning of June 14 2017 is one that no firefighter in Britain will ever forget: the images that we all saw showing the horrific events unfolding were unprecedented.

    Watching our brothers and sisters going into that building time after time to rescue people in desperate situations made us proud, but also concerned that there would still be a huge loss of life despite their efforts and, tragically, as we all now know, this was the case.

    In over 20 years working within the fire and rescue service, I have never seen a fire pose such a huge threat to human life.

    The firefighters’ bravery and professionalism, including those who took the calls in the operational fire control rooms, has rightfully been recognised by most. What must also be recognised is that these women and men are also trade unionists.

    Trade unionists who have previously been demonised as militant and anti-Establishment for standing up for fair pay, fair pensions, workers’ rights and against cuts to their profession.

    The night of Grenfell will have been the toughest shift of their lives, with the memory running deep for a very long time.

    Questions have been asked as to whether the Scottish fire and rescue service could respond adequately to an incident on the scale of the Grenfell Tower disaster, where at its height there were 250 firefighters and 40 fire engines.

    Since the introduction of the Scottish fire and rescue service in 2013, we have seen over 700 front-line fire- fighters’ jobs lost and five out of the eight emergency fire control rooms have closed — which has disproportionately affected women.

    The year-on-year cuts to the fire budget are now affecting the front line, despite assurances from the Scottish government.

    Staffing levels have depleted so much that there can be no guarantee that front-line appliances and operational control rooms are adequately maintained and crewed at all times.

    It’s vital that fire appliances respond quickly and in numbers to incidents. This is known as the “speed of response” and the “weight of response.”

    This would have been critical for an incident such as Grenfell. There is grave concern that the continuing austerity-driven cuts are having a detrimental effect on 999 response times and the critical life-saving service firefighters provide.

    The risks in our communities are always changing and the job of a fire- fighter changes with them. It’s vital to nationally assess these risks to ensure the fire and rescue service remains suitably resourced with enough firefighters who have the skills, equipment and infrastructure to deal with them.

    The continuation of budget cuts to the Scottish fire and rescue service is unsustainable. The service needs long-term, strategic investment to recruit firefighters and ensure the safety of the public.

    The FBU’s priority has always been firefighter and public safety. We have a long history of campaigning on these issues and will continue to do so.

    These campaigns include the strengthening of fire, building and housing regulations and, in 2009, the FBU moved our motion on sprinklers at the STUC Congress, where it was carried.

    The resolution arose from the increase in deaths, injuries and rescues as a consequence of fire in Scotland and called on the Scottish government to make the necessary changes to building regulations in order to ensure that all new-build properties are required to have sprinkler systems installed and for local authorities to begin an installation programme of sprinkler systems in all their housing stock.

    The recent fire statistics for Scotland have shown that fires and fatalities are on the increase again. In the last decade, Scotland has had a higher rate than England and Wales for fires, fatalities and casualties. In other words you’re more at risk of dying in a house fire in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.

    The increase in these fire deaths, at a time where fire budgets and fire- fighter numbers are being cut, is extremely concerning and will not go without challenge by the FBU.

    The Grenfell disaster may be at the heart of the political debate today, but it has been the FBU that has consistently for many years been raising concerns over public service cuts that impact on fire safety, fire protection and fire resources.

    Grenfell has to be — must be — a moment for a major change of direction. The war on public safety has to end.

    The relentless attacks on public services and those who deliver them has to end, and the best tribute we can pay to those who lost their lives is to fight for justice and ensure a disaster like this never happens again.

    It is time to end the continued cuts to the Scottish fire and rescue service. Year-on-year budget cuts have left staff morale at rock bottom.

    If we want a world-class fire and rescue service then the onslaught of cuts must cease immediately and investment must be provided. Cuts really do cost lives.

    Denise Christie is Scottish regional treasurer of the Fire Brigades Union.


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