The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has warned many of the laboratory tests used to check the fire safety of building material are inadequate.
The ABI has today (25 April) published the results of a series of experiments carried out by the Fire Protection Association, which it claims uses more realistic conditions than those in the current standard tests. The trade body for the insurance industry also claims the current testing regime overlooks several key factors.
For example, test fires are only made up of wood, but in modern blazes around a fifth of the materials involved are plastic.
And cladding materials are often tested as a sealed unit, but when fitted on a building they often include gaps and cover a far more extensive area.
In one of the experiments, two fires were created with the same energy content, but one was built purely out of wood and the other contained 20% plastic.
According to the ABI, the test results show the fire containing plastic had a flame length around 1 metre longer and temperatures 100 degrees hotter than the wooden fire.
Another experiment with cladding materials found the availability of oxygen made a “massive difference” to how well the materials respond to fire.
It found in well-ventilated voids, such as those behind cladding systems, the rate at which fire spreads can be greatly increased by a chimney effect.
And any test that restricts the availability of oxygen in any way that does not happen on a full-scale building will not be able to correctly assess how the materials will behave in a fire.
Comments from ABI and FPA
The director general of the ABI, Huw Evans, said the research is “yet more evidence that fundamental reform” is needed to keep homes and businesses safe from fire.
“It is a matter of urgency that we create the right testing regime that properly replicates real world conditions and keeps pace with building innovation and modern design,” added Mr Evans.
And the managing director of the Fire Protection Association, Jonathan O’Neill, added: “The results of this important research confirm long-held concerns by many in the fire sector that the current cladding test standard requires urgent review to ensure that systems that pass are reflective of the systems that are installed and of the risks to which they are exposed.
“We urge BSI (British Standards Institution) to urgently reconvene the group responsible for this standard to consider the results of this research and to make changes to the standard as required.”
To read the full ABI research, see here.