Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 20 JULY 1999
40. You conducted this research after the Knowsley
Heights fire, what broadly were the conclusions you came to about
the risk of spread?
(Mr Field) There were several issues arising from
the research. First of all, the research reconfirmed the already
known phenomenon that fire can break out of a room and can extend
up the outside of a building, regardless of the nature of the
fabric; and it can do so and involve floors immediately above.
The work we undertook basically involved looking at complete systems
at full-scale. That is a fundamentally important issue. It is
important also to look at the total systems. The work basically
has arrived at the situation where we have developed a performance
criteria which essentially can discriminate fire performance of
cladding systems; and, at the end of the day, this can be utilised
by the regulators to determine whether or not such a method and
such a criteria is appropriate for incorporating into the Regulations.
The test method which has been published
41. Before you go on to the solution, as it
were, I want to be clear on your view about the risk. Do you think
this really is a risk? Is there a problem here?
(Mr Field) Are we talking about the current building
(Mr Field) With the current building stock, as we
have already heard, no-one really knows what is outside there
in the actual building stock. Knowsley Heights was one incident.
There have been a small number of incidents. Therefore, one has
to balance the risks against the likelihood of fires occurring.
Secondly, we have to look at the issues relating to the ability
for people to escape from fires if and when they occur. I would
perhaps suggest the evidence so far would suggest the risk is
not too significant compared with living one's ordinary life.
43. You think it is more theoretical than real?
(Mr Field) One would not go that far. Clearly there
is a risk, but whether the risk is a significant one I think is
44. If that is right, do the current Regulations
do enough to minimise that risk, or could more be done regarding
(Mr Field) This is obviously a matter for the Department
who frame the Regulations.
45. You advise the Department, surely?
(Mr Field) Yes.
46. We are asking you what your advice is going
(Mr Field) We believe that the current Regulations
and the guidance given in Approved Document B, first of all, state
that the building envelope should not provide a medium for fire
spread, which increases or poses a threat to life safety. That
is a fundamental issue. We are not talking here about the ability
of the envelope to burn; we are talking about the threat to life
safety. In considering life safety we have to consider the time
available for escape, the means of escape and obviously the attendance
time of the fire service. There have also been issues referred
to already relating to the Class `0' system of fire spread, which
is basically a material based system of classification. I think
there are some circumstances whereby utilising that of itself
would not adequately identify the fire performance of a complete
system. The other issue in the Regulations is that, there is also
guidance given on the provision for cavity fire barriers. What
our test method does is adds to this body of guidance. I do not
think the guidance that is currently there should be ignored completely.
It is far from being totally adequate. We think the tests add
to the current guidance which is likely to be available.
47. Could you just tell us what test method
(Mr Field) Basically the test method involves a facade
of a building which goes up to some 10 metres in height
48. 10 metres?
(Mr Field) Yes, 33-35 feet.which is therefore
capable of looking at a fire developing from a room and expanding
up the outside of a building and extending to some three floors
above the actual seat of the fire. It is only in those circumstances
where we believe a total systems performance can be identified
and looked at.
49. That is what you would do in terms of the
tests of all materials likely to be used?
(Mr Field) Yes. This is basically a test method for
external cladding systems. It is done at full-scale deliberately
because, as has been said earlier, there is some question over
some of the small-scale testing.
50. What has been the results of those? If you
were to adopt a similar situation as the one in Irvine, for instance,
what was the result of those tests?
(Mr Field) We have not looked at systems which allegedly
have been used in Irvine.
51. Why not?
(Mr Field) We understand they involved a window replacement
decorative panel system. We have not looked at that specifically.
The focus of research was purely and simply on total cladding
systems which, by and large, are the large majority of systems
used in the UK.
52. Given that it is on these blocks of flats
in Irvine, why have you not had certain tests; it must be quite
(Mr Field) It certainly could be tested but we have
not been asked to do so by anybody at this moment in time. There
is no problem in actually looking at those systems in this test
53. Do you think in the circumstances all forms
of cladding should be tested by you?
(Mr Field) It would certainly make sense to have the
cladding systems tested in a properly defined test method, of
which we believe this is one.
54. Have you got to be asked to do any testing?
(Mr Field) We are a private sector organisation; we
are not part of government. Clearly, in days gone by, when we
were part of DoE then this work was done and would have been done
in the public interest without the need for formal contract. One
regrets there are now commercial pressures that require clients
to place formal contracts with us before we can undertake work.
55. Do you think that is something that is fundamentally
flawed in terms of the positioning; it must be, surely?
(Mr Field) I think in fairness to the Department,
we do have a dialogue with them and we do seek to take forward
issues of concern. In fairness to them they did speak to us immediately
after the Knowsley fire. Out of that came initial research which
led to the research project which was funded jointly by the Department
and industry to develop this particular test method.
56. After the Irvine fire, similarly the Department
asked you to test?
(Mr Field) The Department have already been in contact
with us about the related issues of the Irvine fire. They have
already indicated to us they might be looking to us to provide
new guidance with respect to what might follow on. They have also
indicated they are considering the adoption of a test method as
part of their revision of the Approved Document.
57. I want to press you on this. What was the
timescale after the Knowsley fire?
(Mr Field) The Knowsley fire I think started in 1991.
Research was started by the Department immediately after that.
58. What do you mean by "immediately"?
(Mr Field) We had discussions with the Department
within weeks of the fire occurring. You must appreciate that one
has to undertake a survey of the circumstances surrounding any
fire and look at associated issues before coming up with a plan
for a research programme which would lead to an objective resolution.
59. Surely the Department itself should adopt
almost a mandatory position as far as all of those claddings are
(Mr Field) This is a matter for them, I would suggest.
13 Note by witness: The Department have not
asked FRS to undertake tests following the Irvine fire. Back