Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 20 JULY 1999
20. So you have made detailed submissions?
(Dr Moore) Yes, very detailed for all of it; but on
this particular issue we raised a point that we actually needed
a full-scale testa room corner test, that type of thing
which has been referred to alreadyand that should be included
in the Approved Document B.
(Mr Evans) Yes, we have made a detailed submission
on the proposals for Approved Document B, but this was not one
of the matters that was under discussion during the consultation
process on Approved Document B. The last time that this matter
was dealt with, on our understanding, was in 1991 when the Building
Regulations were reviewed at that time. It was not a matter that
was reviewed this time, if you see what I mean. The way the DETR
put out their consultation papersand in fairness to them
many other government departments do the sameis they pose
their consultees with a list of questions and sometimes with options
as well. This matter was not a matter that was consulted upon.
Therefore, as it was not consulted upon, we did not respond on
it because it was not asked about.
21. It seems to be a very strange consultation
when you are dealing with Building Regulations which cover all
aspects of the construction industry?
(Mr Evans) The Department of Environment, Transport
and the Regions Building Regulation Division has an advisory committeethe
Building Regulations Advisory Committee, BRAC. They actually sit
in perpetuity and periodically review the Building Regulations,
roughly on a five-year cyclealthough by the time the review
of Approved Document B comes out this time it will be nearly seven
years since the last review. They publish the matters they want
to consult upon. If I may say, that is another concern we have.
I am not saying it is impossible, and neither am I criticising
any members of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, but
it is difficult to get matters into there. If something came up
in this intervening period of approximately five years and we
found a fire issue, or it was another issue pertinent to the Building
Regulations, it is very difficult to get it in and get an amendment
22. Have any representations ever been made
to the Health and Safety Executive on this issue?
(Dr Moore) Not that I am aware of.
23. Is there any reason why it has not been
(Dr Moore) It has not been a route which has been
thought of as being a route in relation to fire safety. The DETR
seems to be the main body dealing with these particular Regulations
for new buildings. Different Acts apply to buildings once they
are occupied. The Fire Safety Act is for occupied buildings.
24. Are you happy with the method adopted during
the stages of consultation?
(Mr Evans) I think we would welcome the debate in
BRAC on some of these issues being far more open than it currently
is. We would also like to see a better balance with fire service
representatives upon the Fire Advisory Panel. At the moment the
Fire Advisory Panel has nine members, only one of which is a fire
(Mr Evans) Yes, one.
26. What about the other eight?
(Dr Moore) Just to add a little to what has been said
already: the problem we do find in this particular industry, particularly
in terms of legislation, we have got this rather awful term "tombstone
legislation"; it is a nasty term to use but that is what
it means: you get a major fire and as a result you get some changes
taking place. It is not done very much in a logical fashion. We
have got, "Oh, we must revise these Regulations
or Approved Document B every five years"; and then we have
got the other complication because they have different sets of
requirements in Scotland and they may go out of tandem. You have
England and Wales going perhaps every five years from 1990-1995,
say, and then Scotland comes in the middle and revises theirs
halfway through. There is no logical relationship between the
two. What we would all like to see if it was possible, and I know
devolution may have affected things, was a unified set of Regulations
for the whole of the United Kingdom, bringing it up to the same
level of safety as expected in the various parts of the country.
You do not want to downgrade safety, you want to go up to the
higher levels, which might exist in Scotland or England and Wales
in certain areas.
27. What you are saying basically is there is
a lack of co-activity?
(Dr Moore) When we came to this issue we all tried
to analyse what was said in the Scottish Regulations,
as opposed to those in Approved Document B, and found if in effect
they were saying the same thing it was very difficult to see that;
and it was very difficult to interpret what they both meant in
relation to these particular issues. I would like to see the coming
together of these different areas, if we could do that.
28. A test for assessing the fire performance
of external cladding systems has been developed by officials of
the Fire Research Station. Would the adoption of this test method
be sufficient to prevent fire infill systems, such as that involved
in the incident in Irvine?
(Dr Moore) We within FSDG have no specific involvement
in this but other people here may have. All I can say is that
it seems highly likely that such a test would improve the situation.
No-one knows the exact circumstances of the fire at Irvine, but
it could have made a difference if that had actually been in place.
(Mr Evans) As Dr Moore says, people following us are
better placed to answer that. All I can say is, I guess any test
that is an improvement on the existing test would be welcomed.
I suspect probably that this proposal for a test I waved about
a few moments ago is probably the outcome of the work you have
just referred to. On the basis of what is proposed in this draft,
I have to say we welcome this because it reflects the test of
the materials as they are actually being used.
29. There is a feeling expressed by the Fire
Research Station that such a system would not have been successful
in relation to the fire at Irvine. That being the case, what do
you believe should be done to ensure the safety of systems such
(Mr Evans) We put in our report quite clearly that,
above a certain height, cladding systems (whether they are infill,
whether they are weather protection, whether they are decorative
or whatever) should be inherently non-combustible; or should be
fire-resisting to the standard of the internal walls of the building.
There is a requirement for the internal walls of buildings to
be fire-resistingthat is an optionand at a height
at which we can actually get to them to pull them off. We would
not be unhappy with a limited combustibility, but based upon a
realistic test. It is the test that actually tells you what the
material is going to do. The test has to be relevant to how that
material is going to be used. Small-scale testing can give you
a good idea, but large-scale testing will validate what the small-scale
testing shows; and that, we believe, is a fundamental problem
with this. The Building Regulations, with regard to cladding systems,
is a grey area. They do not look at vertical envelopment of a
building in fire, and the existing test, in our opinion, is fundamentally
unsatisfactory. If you put those three together then you will
improve the safety of the system dramatically.
(Dr Moore) We are in a difficulty here because we
have only had what we have seen in the newspapers to describe
what went on in Irvine. As I understand it, I do not think it
was quite what we have been talking about here, largely on overcladding
system, which this particular test is designed to improve. We
have two issues: one, can we improve the fire safety of overcladding
systems? I think such a standard will. The other one is: what
actually went on at Irvine? I think Irvine may well have been
nothing more than an embellishment of a window with panels underneath
it; which is not quite the same as an external cladding system.
I think there are two different technical issues here. The new
test would not relate to the one at Irvine, which I think may
have been more simply a window problem, where they had window
surrounds rather than a true external cladding system as we know
30. Why, in your opinion, are there no plans
to adopt the Test for assessing the fire performance of external
cladding systems as mandatory for all such systems? Is it, as
you perhaps outline, because the test is not good enough, or is
it because manufacturers of external cladding systems are worried
at the costs that might be entailed?
(Dr Moore) I think it is the first one, on the basis
that the test is still in the development stage. I am not an expert
in knowing how far the test got, the one developed in association
with the Fire Research Station. Again, we might hear people talking
about that later on. The test is still what we call a "draft".
That is what is delaying it being put in placemore the
fact of that than anything else. It is just a test which is not
available but, hopefully, will be when they get to work on it.
(Mr Harper) The test itself will be set forward in
draft and then agreed; it will not become relevant until it is
accepted within the Building Regulations Part B as a requirement.
People do not insist on fire safety tests for products unless
they are required to by Building Regulations.
31. Are you aware of many systems that are up
which were installed before the current Building Regulations,
and is that a source of concern?
(Dr Moore) If we are talking about overcladding systems,
they have been widely used for a number of years. They run into
two types: one whereby you apply something like the insulation
directly to the wall; that could be a polystyrene, or it could
be incombustible material like mineral wool; and then you have
a different system which is called a "rainscreen cladding
system", where it stands off from the wall, allowing a gap
between the wall and the outside cladding. You have two separate
systems. These have been in place and have been widely used throughout
the UK, particularly in high-rise blocks more than anything else;
local authority people like these because they are very good for
improving problems in existing buildings. As far as I am aware,
apart from the Knowsley Heights fire which was a rainscreen cladding
system, that is probably one of the few fires that has occurred
related to that sort of system. As I have already said, as a result
of that Regulations
have been changed in England and Wales for quite some time. The
other systems I have less knowledge of, apart from the fact they
are widely used in Europe and, as far as I am aware, they are
not posing any great problem in terms of fire, even though polystyrene
is being used. In the longer term there could be a problem, because
vandalism could affect these sorts of products and remove the
surface coating put on some of these materials and lay it open
to fire, which no-one would have expected 20 years before when
the material was actually applied.
32. What about the Fire Brigades Union, have
you any information about older systems which are a source of
concern to you?
(Mr Evans) The problem is, and we put this in our
response, nobody really knows the extent to which these systems
have been used. Obviously local authorities have used the product
and developers have used them. The quick answer to your question
is, nobody knows how many are in use. Some of the older systems,
I guess, could cause problems. It depends how they are constructed;
it depends how well they have withstood the test of time. If they
are an overcladding system it depends very much on what has been
used in the core of the insulant. If there is a fire in a room,
and that fire comes out through the window and attacks that overcladding
system, will the cladding system be able to withstand that thermal
attack? There are a lot of imponderables in that. There are an
awful lot of "ifs". I think the quick answer to your
question is: nobody really knows, because these systems have developed
over the years.
33. Do you think that the risk is great enough
to warrant local authorities conducting a survey of external cladding
systems to see what is in there?
(Mr Evans) We have put this in our response. We certainly
feel it would be worth local authorities conducting an inspection
of their existing systems to find out just what they have got
pinned on the walls of their buildings. I have to say in fairness
to local authorities, it is not just local authorities who use
34. One of the witnesses says, "There are
approximately 3,500 tower blocks in excess of ten storeys, most
are suffering some form of vertical envelope failure", and
then he goes on to mention a particular large building firm and
the problems that have arisen there. What are we talking about?
If you are really saying the majority of tower blocks, particularly
those that have been built recently, have some form of cladding
then this is rather more urgent than would be indicated by a timescale
of ten years between one Building Regulation and another?
(Mr Evans) What you have to look at is what the systems
are, and what standards they have been installed tothat
is the crucial factorand how well they have withstood the
test of time.
35. Would you as an individual, with the knowledge
you have, stay in one of these high-rise flats?
(Mr Evans) I am not hedging, Mr Donohoe, but from
my point of view it would depend very much on what was stuck on
the outside walls.
Mrs Dunwoody: I do not want to be depressing,
but I am thinking of giving notice!
36. I accept you could look at what was on the
outside and make a decision, but the problem we have is we do
not want to alarm people unnecessarily. There must be people who
will fairly soon hear what has been said this morning and some
will be worried. Is there any simple advice, as far as people
are concerned? First of all, living is actually dangerous, is
it not, so how much more dangerous is it to be in one of these
blocks? Is there some simple way in which people can make an assessment
of what cladding is on the outside?
(Mr Evans) Let me put it to you like this: the situation
is that with tower blocks you will not burn them down. They were
designed and built at the time to resist a total flat burn-out.
Believe you me, my colleague and I have many experiences of fires
in flats. You will not burn down a tower block. There are two
things here: you will not burn down a tower block; you may very
well have fire spread up the outside of the block from a fire
in another flat. The tactic has always been, with multistorey
flats, to leave the residents in the flats, on the basis that
they are safer there. Provided the means of escape, the exit routes
out from the flats to outside, are not compromised by the cladding,
then there is no reason for residents to fear for their lives.
Provided they can get out of their flats, reach an escape route
then they will get out of the flats. What they need is an early
warning of a fire and the ability to respond to that and get out
of the flat, and to ensure that their means of escape are not
compromised by the cladding. In other words, the fire should not
be able to spread round the building and into a means of escape
route. I can guarantee you will not burn one of those tower blocks
(Dr Moore) The essential thing here is we must not
be alarmist about this. To my knowledge, and probably the industry's
knowledge, the number of fires in these sorts of cladding systems
have not been large. I have already said that these materials
are used in Europe; they are used in Europe probably ten or 20
times as much as they are in the UKin France and Germany;
and in those areas I do not believe there has been a major problem
with these products. I do not think we should be alarmist. Nevertheless,
we should take a view on this to see whether something as simple
as vandalism could make the fire hazard worse than would have
been expected when the product was first put up.
Chairman: Gentlemen, could I thank you very
8 Refers to the Building Regulations (England and Wales). Back
Refers to the Building Regulations 1991 (England and Wales) Back
Approved Document B, Fire Safety to the Building Regulations 1991
(England and Wales) and the equivalent Guidance document in Northern
Ireland. It also includes Part D Structural Fire Precautions of
the Technical Standards supporting the Building Standards (Scotland)
Regulations 1990. Back
Part D Structural Fire Precautions of the Technical Standards
supporting the Building Standards (Scotland) Regulations 1990. Back
Approved Document B, Fire Safety to the Building Regulations 1991
(England and Wales). Back