ROCKWOOL reacts to post-Grenfell Tower fire guidance

September 7, 2017

UK Department of Communities and Local Government issues post-Grenfell fire guidance. ROCKWOOL welcomes the guidance while raising concerns about the tests on which it’s based and advocating for changes in UK building regulations.

We welcome the DCLG’s consolidated advice to building owners following its series of full-scale fire tests – particularly the guidance that ‘one way to ensure that a cladding system adequately resists external fire spread is for all of the relevant elements of the wall to be of limited combustibility’. The combination of A2 limited combustibility cladding and non-combustible stone wool insulation is a good example of such a solution.

This test series was designed to give owners of potentially unsafe buildings immediate guidance on reducing fire risk based on current UK regulations. While certainly relevant, the tests were nevertheless conducted under ideal conditions that do not reflect real-world construction experience, nor allow for a margin of error either in installation or material performance over time. The test results’ value as a guide for the significant regulatory changes that are required is therefore limited.

The fact that more than 95 percent of buildings screened and covered by the large scale tests fail to meet current fire safety standards clearly demonstrates the ambiguity, complexity, and confusion that exists among landlords and local authorities regarding compliance with the standards as well as an urgent need for clearer guidance on UK building regulations.

Current UK regulations and practice have allowed tall buildings to be wrapped in combustible cladding and insulation. We believe that to truly ensure public safety and building resilience, the UK should adopt a simple binary system – with building materials classified as either combustible or non-combustible. We also believe the UK should follow the example set elsewhere in Europe that only non-combustible cladding and insulation be allowed on mid- to high-rise buildings. This system would be a simple, easily implemented, and effective way to safeguard lives and property.

We fully support the DCLG advice from 02 August 2017, which states ‘An obvious option to ensure that the cladding system adequately resists external fire spread, is to replace the system with one where all of the elements of the wall are of limited combustibility’. We believe this should become the standard required for all UK buildings taller than 18 metres as well as for public buildings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

Individuals, organisations and authorities responsible for or living in tall buildings should ask themselves whether it makes sense to wrap their buildings in combustible materials. It’s hard for us to imagine a scenario where it’s worth taking that risk.