CROSS Safety Report
Combustible cladding material ignited during remediation work
Combustible insulation on the external walls of high rise residential premises is being remediated nationwide. In a recent site visit, the reporter identified a render faced wall with an expanded polystyrene (EPS) core attached to a building’s structure. Damage was noticed in the insulation from apparent combustion within the EPS element.
Key Learning Outcomes
For project managers, contractors and building managers:
- Most buildings are occupied during cladding remediation works, so it is critical that safe working practices are adopted to ensure the safety of residents
For principal contractors:
- The principal contractor should ensure fire prevention measures are in place during remediation works. In particular, they should ensure that a competent person undertakes a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment
- It is essential to ensure that any operations involving the generation of heat or sparks, such as hot works, cutting or grinding, are known about and suitably controlled
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Combustible insulation on the external walls of high rise residential premises is being remediated nationwide. In a recent site visit, the reporter identified a render faced wall with an expanded polystyrene (EPS) core attached to the building’s structure. Damage was noticed to the insulation from apparent combustion within the EPS element.
Extensive remediation works continue nationwide in the wake of the Grenfell Fire tragedy. There is a duty on the industry to ensure a safe and sustainable approach for owners, occupiers, and residents of the buildings involved. This applies during the remediation works being undertaken on site, as well as in the end condition.
As most buildings are occupied during the works, it is critical that safe working practices are adopted to ensure the safety of residents.
Unsafe working practices would appear to be the underlying cause
With demolition/removal underway, friction from powered cutting tools has been indicated as the cause of localised ignition within the external wall. The combustion appears to have been extinguished after a short time in this instance but was not reported or identified as having occurred to the team on site. There does not appear to have been an extinguishing medium used, and therefore this has been identified as a near miss to the contractor, design team, and client. There is the potential that the fire could have entered the cladding and proceeded to burn extensively within the cavity between the cladding and the structure.
Unsafe working practices would appear to be the underlying cause. It is expected that any hot works should meet the requirement of HSG 168 Fire Safety in Construction, and where applicable the Joint Code of Practice for Fire Prevention on Construction Sites.
It is incumbent on the principal contractor to ensure fire prevention measures are in place during remediation works. A suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment should be undertaken by a competent person in respect of proposed works on site.
It is incumbent on the principal contractor to ensure fire prevention measures are in place during remediation works
This assessment should consider the tools to be used, the materials in place, and the consequences of ignition upon relevant persons.
Expert Panel Comments
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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.
This is a worrying report, which highlights how construction site operatives need training in the unintended consequences of what they are doing.
The cause of this safety concern appears to come down to the management of fire safety on a construction site which, as reported, appears to be poor.
According to the reporter there was a complete disregard for the requirement under the CDM Regulations to ensure that the proposed works do not compromise the safety construction operatives.
In addition, if works are taking place in an occupied building, the residents must be protected. There is a need for a pre-construction plan which ensures that what is undertaken does not compromise the safety of residents. That includes the identification of any combustible materials that are present, such as combustible insulation, or introduced as part of the works (for example, timber scaffolding or weather sheeting) and any fire risk activities such as hot works, cutting, or grinding. It also includes any risk that the works might compromise the fire safety systems for the building (for example, any corridor smoke vents which might discharge into areas which are going to be scaffolded).
The fire risk assessment for the building also needs to be updated to reflect the situation during the construction or remediation phases.
A competent principal contractor should ensure that adequate supervision is in place, that subcontractors are competent for the tasks they are contracted to carry out and that appropriate controls for hot work, usually by a permit system, are in place.
There are too many instances where ignition from work practices have led to major fires
This is an opportunity to highlight the need to alert the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) in these circumstances, which should be part of the management and culture of fire safety on the site, as whilst those responsible may wish to 'cover up' the fire, the early summoning of the FRS is key. There are too many instances where ignition from work practices have led to major fires, and so we need this culture to change to make progress. This would be particularly tragic if there was another cladding fire in a residential building. The consequences for all involved would be severe.
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