In the dark pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, 14th June 2017, a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, a residential building in West London. By the time this fire was brought under control, it had already engulfed the entire 24-story building, resulting in the deaths of 72 people. Many people initially couldn’t comprehend the scale of the tragedy; how had the fire spread so quickly? Investigators quickly determined that the exterior of the building was clad in a flammable material that failed all preliminary tests carried out by police.
During recent renovations to the tower, an original proposal for fire-resistant zinc cladding was rejected because it was considered to be too costly. A cheaper aluminum cladding was used instead, with devastating results.
In the wake of this tragedy, the British public is demanding more accreditation for materials being produced for use on building envelopes and exteriors. In order to meet the increased demand for the testing and certification of these products, the Fire Protection Association (FPA) have announced a new collaboration with UL LLC, a safety science organization based in the US.
Prior to the collaboration being announced, testing facilities in the UK were reportedly booked out 6 months in advance. In fact, many companies were sending their products to be tested overseas in an effort to get around the extended wait times. UL plans to boost testing capacity and increase the number of services currently offered by FPA by investing in their current research facilities. In addition to the 9 UK sites (presently staffed by 500 personnel), UL will also offer certification of products directly from the FPA research and testing facility.
With a stated goal of rebuilding the public’s trust in cladding, UL has specified they will be working in harmony with British Standards BS 8414, which are expected to be revised. UL has also vowed to improve the quality of the testing process in response to an independent review commissioned by the Association of British Insurers, which found the current level of assessments to be sub-par. Chris Hasbrook, general manager and vice president of UL’s building and life safety technologies division confirmed: “UL is committed to increasing their ability for facade fire testing in the UK, as well as the quality of that testing.”
The director of policy at the Association of British Insurers, James Dalton, said that this partnership is particularly welcome since it will assist in boosting the safety of all buildings, including (but not limited to) high-rise apartment blocks. This is evident in the fact UL will be offering concerned building owners both forensic services and building envelope inspection services, which would scrutinize insulation as well as cladding and other materials in use.
It’s not just the UK that is responding to the fires at the Grenfell Tower. All around the globe, authorities are reviewing quality controls. For example, in Melbourne Australia where there are now a number of buildings with cladding under scrutiny, a local supplier Architectural Cladding Suppliers has noticed an increase in fire-related questions when orders are made.
FPA managing director Jonathon O’Neill believes this new partnership gives FPA an “unrivaled opportunity.” The international collaboration will help their customers to have access to products from a global market, whilst also ensuring safety standards within the UK are strictly adhered to.