Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
November 29, 2018

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Breaking news

Toxic gases emitted by external cladding during fire pose serious health risk, study shows

Building regulations overlook the health hazards posed by toxic gases emitted by burning external cladding, smoke toxicity tests have suggested.

The Fire Protection Association (FPA) investigated the level of toxic fumes generated by cladding combinations that are compliant with current building regulations. It found a potential for serious harm to any human exposed in the case of fire.

The FPA hopes its report, launched today, will guide government thinking on the role toxicity plays in product approvals. The government has now announced a ban on combustible materials in construction in response to recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt following her review of building regulations.

“Measuring smoke toxicity in building products is currently not a legal requirement.” Dr Jim Glockling, FPA technical director

“Measuring smoke toxicity in building products is currently not a legal requirement,” said Dr Jim Glockling, the FPA’s technical director. “The results of our study show that current regulations may not adequately protect occupants from the potentially toxic fire gases from materials burning on the outside of buildings.

“Some current common cladding material combinations were shown to present less of a threat than others. There is certainly a need for further study.”

Rules that govern how a building’s walls must contain fire to facilitate safe evacuation are much stricter for internal walls than for external walls. Yet devices and features, such as bathroom or kitchen vents, can potentially transmit fire and smoke from the cladding system into the occupied space.

The study considered egress of toxic gases into a typical living room within a building covered in rain-screen-type cladding. Rain-screen cladding, which was fitted on Grenfell Tower, is a space formed between the insulation material and rear of the cladding panel that may contain other materials like vapour membranes (a sheet of material to keep out moisture).

For some compliant material combinations, once fire breaks into the cladding section containing a vent connected to an apartment, people are predicted to lose consciousness within 10 minutes and die within 30 minutes.

The FPA is offering the report to government and the Grenfell Inquiry to help it better assess the merits of specifying non-combustible materials in buildings and in strengthening regulations around fire and smoke ingress. It also expressed the hope that its work would prompt further research into whether fire toxicity evaluations should become integral to the building products approval process.

FPA MD Jonathan O’Neill said: “This work reinforces our view that a range of factors, such as measurement of toxic fumes, need to be considered when choosing building materials, in order to protect buildings and ultimately save lives.

“The Fire Protection Association wants assurance from government that systems are in place to regularly review building standards to ensure that the UK can never experience a tragedy on the scale we witnessed at Grenfell – on our or any future generations’ watch.”

Tests, which were undertaken over four months at the FPA’s laboratory in Blockley, Gloucestershire, involved several cladding and insulation combinations legally used on UK buildings using materials similar to those on Grenfell Tower.

Four tests were conducted to compare the smoke toxicity of various configurations.

The report was funded by the UK insurance industry through RISCAuthority. Toxicant analysis was provided by University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and material design detailing by Arup.

The FPA is holding a seminar considering the implications of Dame Hackitt’s recommendations for British standards and testing, product selection and legislative change plus the potential commercial impact on Monday 3 December in London, with places still available.

Read the full report

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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alan dransfield
alan dransfield
December 1, 2018 6:55 pm

It beggars belief the Interim Fire Report (IFR) has not yet been published 18 months post fire.

Charlie Houston
Charlie Houston
December 3, 2018 10:47 am

Are you aware of the poll taken of tenants in blocks of flats regarding the “stay-put” strategy