Cladding & external finishes

Better fire testing and certification for the UK

Chris Miles of UL discusses how a new international alliance aims to shake up the UK fire testing industry


t’s rare for a British Standard to receive so much media attention. BS 8414 has even starred on Newsnight. However, post-Grenfell and the Hackitt Inquiry, many are looking for a modernised, comprehensive, and effective

standard to address the fire safety challenges of modern building materials. Indeed, the whole issue of large-scale fire testing and the product certification

that follows is hugely controversial at the moment, leaving many developers, landlords and the construction industry supply chain that serves them wondering who and what they can trust. Tis piece looks at the current concerns around the testing regime for

cladding and facades, the government consultation on BS 8414 and the reasons behind the launch of a new international alliance that is set to challenge BRE and improve testing standards in the UK.

SCEPTICAL STANDARDS BS 8414 is the two-part British Standard and test method for the fire performance of external cladding systems. Te standard was considered well developed, having first been introduced in 2002 and recently updated by the BSI group in 2015. Te standard enables building designers to use cladding composed of

combustible materials if they can sufficiently resist the spread of fire in a high-rise building, something that the tests should confirm. Tis provides greater flexibility and artistic licence in building design, using cladding that has

a higher environmental rating, looks better, and costs less than some traditional non-combustible alternatives. However, several high-profile fires, including the one at Grenfell Tower, have

led building professionals (and the public) to question whether this test is still fit for purpose. Igniting these concerns are the results of a series of carefully controlled

research experiments carried out by the Fire Protection Association (FPA), commissioned by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), earlier this year. Te FPA tests were conducted in a real-life test environment and included factors such as plastic, voids in cladding, and vents. Te differences between the current testing setup and the FPA’s recent test

results were alarming, with fires burning 100°C hotter and flames one metre higher. Te demand being heard loud and clear from the industry is that this is a challenge that needs to be swiſtly addressed.

GOVERNMENT CONSULTATION Following the recommendations of the independent review led by Dame Judith Hackitt, the government is consulting on banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings. As part of this consultation, the government is reviewing: • Te use of desktop studies • Te definitions of ‘combustibility’ and ‘cladding’ | HMM September 2018 | 35

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