Industry News

Grenfell Tower fire was predicted a decade beforehand

about the dangers they posed at least ten years before the tragedy struck and had even warned another customer against using the panels on safety grounds. The inquiry heard that Gerard Sonntag, a


marketing manager from Arconic attended a presentation on fire safety in Norway in 2007, after which he sent an internal memo suggesting the company should stop selling the flammable aluminium composite material (ACM) version of its cladding panels. These are the same type of panels that were

subsequently used on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower in 2014 and have been directly implicated in the rapid spread of the fire that killed 72 people. Attendees at the presentation were shown

pictures of a fire in Doha, Qatar, which developed quickly in the cladding system. In his memo sent after the presentation, Mr Sonntag said attendees at the event were asked: "What will happen if only one building made out of polyethylene (PE) is on fire and kills 60 to 70 persons." His memo also went on to ask what the

responsibility of the cladding supplier would be in that situation. Mr Sonntag recommended the company stopped selling the PE version of the cladding in favour of a fire-retardant (FR) type. He also said Arconic should cut its production costs so that the FR version could be produced at the same price as the cheaper PE version.

he Grenfell inquiry has heard chilling evidence that the company who made the highly flammable cladding panels knew

After the Dubai hotel fire involving PE panels, a senior Arconic employee emailed colleagues saying: “I hope that PE will be gradually excluded from facade cladding”, but the company continued to manufacture and sell it

While Arconic admits making the raw materials

for cladding systems, it has claimed it cannot be held responsible for the ways they have been used. It has also failed to disclose whether Mr Sonntag's recommendations were fully discussed within the company. Senior representatives from Arconic are refusing

to attend the inquiry to answer questions, so they have been ‘empty chaired’ with Richard Millett, senior counsel for the inquiry, revealing evidence from documents and reading aloud the questions they would have put to senior Arconic employees.

SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION Reading from internal company documents obtained by investigators, Mr Millett said that the company's marketing manager had been "very impressed" by a presentation on fire safety which he attended in 2007. Millett also showed that in June 2011, Arconic

warned a Spanish customer not to use its PE panels because they achieved the low fire performance rating E, which the customer remarked was “close to spontaneous combustion”. But in 2014, Arconic sold the same panels to the Grenfell project on the

basis of a UK fire performance certificate that suggested the materials were rated B. Millett showed that, in the months after

April 2015, when Arconic processed a purchase order selling the PE panels for Grenfell, executives shared technical reports about 10 high-rise fires in different parts of the world using similar cladding panels, warning of the risks. The locations included Australia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and France. After the Dubai hotel fire involving PE panels, a

senior Arconic employee emailed colleagues saying: “I hope that PE will be gradually excluded from facade cladding”, but the company continued to manufacture and sell it. Later that month there was another fire in the

Wolleck tower in France, only 10 metres from a building clad in Reynobond PE. Claude Wehrle, technical chief at Arconic, told colleagues they were “very lucky” the wind had not changed direction and spread the fire. “We really need to stop proposing PE in

architecture! We are in the ‘know’, and I think it is up to us to be proactive … AT LAST.” Grenfell Tower caught fire 17 months later.

Fire barrier installation work on Grenfell strongly criticised by its maker

The quality of work done installing fire barriers on Grenfell Tower was heavily criticised by the manufacturer at the public inquiry, with senior staff saying it was among the worst they had ever seen. Christopher Mort, technical officer for fire and

facades manager, Ricky Kay at cavity barrier manufacturer Siderise, did not hold back in pointing the finger when giving evidence at the inquiry. They said on-site inspections of the work should have resulted in the barriers being removed and replaced with correctly fitted material. Mr Mort had inspected the tower a year after the

fire and said he found examples of areas where cavity barriers should have been with no holes drilled for fixing, leading him to conclude they had “not been installed at all” or fixed to the wall with silicone instead of a bracket.

He also found gaps of up to 140mm, well in

excess of the 25mm which the barriers were designed to close, meaning they would have been unable to prevent the spread of smoke and flame in the cavity. Vertical barriers were also installed

incorrectly, with the bracket meant to hold them piercing the barrier and gaps left where there should not have been any, which would have allowed “fire, flame and smoke to travel behind the cladding”. The barriers were installed by Osborne Berry,

with their workmanship inspected by site managers from cladding firm Harley, lead contractor Rydon, a clerk of works engaged by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) and a building control inspector from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

10 | HMM April/May 2021 |

Mr Mort also highlighted mistakes in the design drawings for the tower’s new windows, which showed a “weak link for fire”.

While the cavity barriers were not the

primary cause of the fire spreading across the cladding panels, they did fail to stop hidden fires from spreading through the gap between cladding panels and the insulation. The small gap included in them (to allow moisture to drain and evaporate) failed to close in the fire due to flaws in their fitting. Mr Mort also highlighted mistakes in the design

drawings for the tower’s new windows, which showed a “weak link for fire”. Mr Kay said Siderise had offered an inspection service as an optional extra but this was declined. They both criticised the high levels of non-conformance in the fitting and inspection work.

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