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Calls at Grenfell Inquiry for mandatory fire consultants on complex projects

Calls for new regime amidst revelation that no external fire advice sought by contractor for new cladding specification

The Grenfell Inquiry has heard calls for external fire consultants to be a mandatory requirement of complex projects, to fully analyse the fire risks following the revelation that no external fire advice was sought for the cladding specification. Under current Building Regulations, there is no mandatory requirement to engage a fire consultant. 

The issues around specialist fire advice have particular relevance for specialist contractors which are engaged after the initial fire strategy documents for projects are in place.

The call came as fire specialist Exova gave evidence about its involvement in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.

Exova said in its statement: “There is no regulatory duty to have a fire consultant at all…Indeed, the Inquiry may want to consider whether there should be such a duty [to engage a fire consultant], in relation to projects sufficiently large or complex to call for it, and/or a defined process by which building control authorities can ascertain whether the need for specialist fire analysis has been considered and, to the extent necessary, addressed.”

The consultant said that it had itself not been engaged after appointment of Rydon as design and build contractor, although it was involved ahead of the appointment on fire strategy, nor was it aware that any other consultant had been engaged in any professional capacity.

In a statement that clearly sought to suggest that the contractors should have sought external expertise, Exova detailed how fire compliance should be achieved on such projects.

The company said: ”There is no statutory requirement to engage a fire consultant or fire engineer. Rydon might have been able to determine for itself, for example, whether the panels to which the BBA Class 0 certificate related were the same as proposed for Grenfell (they were not); whether the insulation to be used was of limited combustibility (it was not); and whether the system was designed with cavity barriers in accordance with section 9 of ADB (it was not).”

It continued: ”Rydon could, alternatively, have chosen to engage a fire specialist to advise on those points. We know that the possibility of retaining an expert was considered…. That, though, was never done, nor did Rydon retain any alternative fire specialists…We do not know why not, but the evidence indicates that Rydon, as a general practice, chose not to instruct fire consultants.”

The company pointed out that while it had provided fire strategy advice before the engagement of Rydon, this could not possibly be applied to the cladding as it had not been specified at this stage.

Exova noted that the contractor and its cladding specialist Harley Façades had no obligation to seek external advice, but it alleged that it didn’t appear that either contractor had sought to confirm compliance with Building Regs for the cladding configuration under any of the available routes: a full scale test under BS8414; a formal assessment by a qualified fire engineer; meeting combustibility classifications under Building Regs Approved Document B; or providing fire engineering evidence that it adequately resists fire spread.

Exova said: ”The extent to which specialist input was needed, in order to determine whether a particular cladding system was compliant, would vary depending on the route adopted. For example, if there was documentary evidence that a BS8414 test had been successfully conducted, at an accredited facility, on the exact same system, that evidence in itself would suffice. At the other end of the spectrum, designing a bespoke engineered solution would require advanced fire engineering expertise.”

 

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