Socialist Worker

Homes could be at risk after Grenfell report says safety tests are ‘inadequate’

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2602

Flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower

Flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower (Pic: Guy Smallman)


A new study has exposed part of the decades of deregulation that allowed the Grenfell Tower fire to happen.

It also raises the possibility that millions of people could be living in death traps.

Since 2010 the Tories have been on a crusade against “red tape”.

In 2014 then housing minister Brandon Lewis said for every one new regulation introduced, two would be scrapped.

That’s the context for a study by the Fire Protection Association which found that fire safety tests created by the British Standards Institution (BSI) are “utterly inadequate”.

The Fire Protection Association (FPA) study found that cladding systems were not tested in “real world” situations.

Cladding could be drilled through or have holes behind it—as was the case at Grenfell. Fire safety professional Sam told Socialist Worker, “You have to recreate the conditions in which the cladding is found to see how it behaves in a fire.”

The standard BSI test—BS 8414—uses wood as fuel. But other materials found in buildings—not used in the tests—can have a dramatic effect on how the fire develops.

When the FPA introduced plastic to the fuel the temperature increased by as much as 100 degrees centigrade. The news also raises concerns about other fire safety tests.

The use of desktop studies is commonplace in the building safety industry.

These involve taking data from previous tests and applying it to non-tested cladding, which can then be used on the outside of buildings. No qualifications are needed to carry them out, and no standard exists for the evidence used in them to be judged against.

So cladding and insulation can be cleared for use by referring to previous test data without being tested themselves.

Deregulation has led to the increase in the use of these tests because they are cheaper and less labour intensive.

Dragging

The Tories could introduce legislation banning them but are dragging their heels.

The report said that one option is that desktop studies could be done by bodies which have the capacity to carry out the full BS 8414 test.

The only body able to do that is the Building Research Establishment (BRE), privatised in 1997.

Initial tests carried out by the BRE on cladding after the Grenfell fire found that three out of seven types were safe.

It’s not clear if the tests the BRE was using were BS 8414.

Sam argued that the secretive nature of these tests raises important questions about their results.

“They wouldn’t tell us what the parameters were and how they did it. We still don’t know how they did it,” he said.

He said that in the immediate aftermath of Grenfell people in positions of responsibility were panicking.

And that in their haste to carry out tests people were “perhaps not doing them in the right way.”

Tories, construction bosses and insurers are scrabbling to pass the buck.

A united movement from below can push to get justice, which must mean an end to unsafe housing and the guilty held to account.


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