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Planning documents for UK tower in fatal fire omitted safety barriers


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Planning documents for UK tower in fatal fire omitted safety barriers

By Tom Bergin

 

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Smoke billows from a tower block severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London. REUTERS/Neil Hall

 

LONDON (Reuters) - Planning documents detailing the refurbishment of a residential tower block in West London where at least 12 people died in a fire on Wednesday did not refer to a type of fire barrier that building safety experts said should be used when high rise blocks are being re-clad.

 

The local authority which owns Grenfell Tower in Kensington declined to confirm whether fire barriers were installed on most floors between the insulation panels attached to the exterior of the building as part of the renovation.

 

Rydon Group, the construction company which undertook the work, also declined to say whether they had been used, but said the revamp "met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards."

 

"We are shocked to hear of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower and our immediate thoughts are with those that have been affected by the incident," a Rydon spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

 

The government department in charge of regulating building work - the Department for Communities and Local Government - did not respond to Reuters' questions, including whether such fire barriers were required by law.

 

It later issued a statement saying "it would not be appropriate to comment on the cause of the fire."

 

Legal experts declined to express an opinion on whether fire barriers are required by law.

 

A 2012 planning document published by The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which included detailed diagrams of the planned new panelling and the materials used in the new skin, did not include reference to the barriers, according to a Reuters review.

 

The only new cladding elements depicted or listed in the "Sustainability and Energy Statement" were wall fixings, exterior zinc panels and polyisocyanurate insulation panels.

 

It is not clear if the document represented the final design used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey 1970s apartment block home to hundreds of residents, or whether fire barriers recommended by industry bodies were installed.

Save for a few of the lower floors, Grenfell Tower was engulfed in flames, trapping families in the upper storeys.

 

Witnesses said the flames spread quickly up the building as most residents slept, and photographs later on Wednesday showed an almost entirely blackened, smouldering shell.

 

The 8.7 million pound ($11.08 million) refurbishment was completed last year. It involved the application of new external cladding and replacement windows, with the aim of improving heat and noise insulation, according to council documents.

 

The application of insulating layers to the outside of buildings is common, but it is also recognised by some architects and construction safety specialists as a potential fire risk.

 

That is because the area between the new exterior panel and the existing wall – which is usually filled with insulating material – becomes a potential channel for flames to rise up along the sides of the building, safety experts said.

 

The London Fire Brigade said it did not yet know the cause of the fire.

 

"We have heard a number of theories about the cause of the fire at Grenfell Tower," said the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the local authority which owns the block.

 

"All of these will be thoroughly investigated as part of the formal investigation which has already begun," it said in a statement.

 

Documents published by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and industry body the Insulated Render and Cladding Association recommend that fire-proof barriers be installed at each floor to make it harder for flame to travel up the gap in between the new and old skins.

 

"There is potential for the fire to propagate throughout the system if adequate fire barriers are not installed ... the installation of fire barriers at each floor level above the first floor level (i.e. starting with the second storey) should be considered," the BRE said in a publication entitled "Fire performance of external thermal insulation for walls of multi-storey buildings".

 

Reuters was not able to determine how widely or how closely these guidelines were followed in similar renovations, and it was not clear what impact the guidelines would have had in the case of Grenfell Tower.

 

The BRE is an organisation that provides safety guidelines for the construction industry, and, although it does not have regulatory powers, it is widely considered as the setter of best industry standards.

 

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(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

 
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-- © Copyright Reuters 2017-06-15
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21 minutes ago, webfact said:

The local authority which owns Grenfell Tower in Kensington declined to confirm whether fire barriers were installed on most floors between the insulation panels attached to the exterior of the building as part of the renovation.

Well they didn't bloody well work, even if they were installed did they?

Someone needs to be held accountable for this tragedy.

Edited by darksidedog
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Having worked in construction for many years in the UK, this sounds like a failure to comply with safety regulations.

So if thats the case, somebody got paid to turn a blind eye.

Safety regs in the UK are amongst the most stringent in the world.

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Under the Scottish building regulations, the barriers are definately required.  I would assume it is the same in the rest of the UK.  As soon as i saw this,  i knew what the problem was on the buildings exterior.  Sad!! 

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7 hours ago, Belzybob said:

There are also two versions of the cladding product used. One with plastic spacer, the other with a fire resistant mineral one. I wonder which is cheaper and which one they opted for?

The cavity barriers have to be

non-combustible.  I am not aware of plastic that would meet the criteria

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12 hours ago, darksidedog said:

Someone needs to be held accountable for this tragedy.

They will be. Orange batman suits or 'Do you know who my dad is?' wont work & as yet there's no ministry of inactive posts to hide in.

 

RIP to the deceased and well done London F&RS.

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19 hours ago, colinneil said:

Having worked in construction for many years in the UK, this sounds like a failure to comply with safety regulations.

So if thats the case, somebody got paid to turn a blind eye.

Safety regs in the UK are amongst the most stringent in the world.

Obviously not in this case. Safety regulations did not work here.

The complicity of developers, the local councils, the persons in regulating "safety measures" should always be called into question.

If any of the ones mentioned are suspect, questions and denial of permits should be enforced.

Too many scum evade the regulations, too many "developers" are granted "carte blanche" in their interaction with the local  elected council.

You will see a lot of ducking and weaving soon. You will see little fault will be found except for a few scapegoats. Welcome to new democracy.

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3 hours ago, spiderorchid said:

Obviously not in this case. Safety regulations did not work here.

The complicity of developers, the local councils, the persons in regulating "safety measures" should always be called into question.

If any of the ones mentioned are suspect, questions and denial of permits should be enforced.

Too many scum evade the regulations, too many "developers" are granted "carte blanche" in their interaction with the local  elected council.

You will see a lot of ducking and weaving soon. You will see little fault will be found except for a few scapegoats. Welcome to new democracy.

Please explain your post, i posted  that someone was paid to turn a blind eye, and you said not in this case..

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Pretty obvious with how fast the fire spread that no fire prevention materials were installed with the rehab and, indeed, the new materials used likely made the fire worse than it might have been.  No sprinklers in the building?   I could see something like this maybe happening in Thailand but London?

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23 hours ago, colinneil said:

Please explain your post, i posted  that someone was paid to turn a blind eye, and you said not in this case..

Easy. You stated that safety regs in the UK are the most stringent in the world.  I said that obviously the most stringent safety regs did not work in this case.  Safety regs like any control measure do not work unless they are enforced.

If you know that someone was paid to turn a blind eye, you need to report him.  If you do not know that someone was paid to turn a blind eye, you should state that your post is based on an unproven theory or supposition, not as fact. OK. Easy

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It's clear from the pictures that the cladding itself has burnt to a cinder and obvious from the first footage that the tower burnt from outside-in. Spacers are not the issue, barriers are not the issue. The cladding itself was flammable for goodness sake.

 

'Who knew?' is the only question, or who ought to have known? Manufacturers, contractors, and architects may not necessarily know the danger of an entire building getting torched as it lies outside the scope of their experience, and they can't be expected to regulate themselves, especially when economic issues are involved.

Only the fire department will have the necessary expertise and jurisdiction, as only they have the funds and the facilities to deal with actual infernos, which presumably they do routinely for training purposes.They checked the building recently yet had no inkling there was a problem with the cladding. They could have just checked against a simple 'flammability index' for known building materials to assess fire risk and yelled immediately 'this stuff will go up like a match!'. Fire department were totally asleep at the wheel here.

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