Grenfell Tower fire: Experts urge complete buildings risk review as fresh facts emerge
by CHUKA UROKO
June 27, 2017 | 6:59 pm| | | Start Conversation
As the relatives of the 79 victims of the Grenfell Towers fire in London grieve, and the 521 survivors grapple with the grim realities of homelessness, builders and facilities management experts are looking ahead, urging property owners to ensure that complete building risk reviews are done before use.
This call is coming on the heels of fresh facts emerging from that June 14 inferno that has left the world in shock, wondering where the builders and handlers of that ‘iconic’ building could have got it wrong.
A 24-storey apartment block comprising one and two-bedroom flats in North Kensington, London, Grenfell Tower, was completed in 1974 as part of the first phase of the Lancaster West Estate. Its concrete structure’s top 20 storeys consisted of 120 flats, with a total of 200 bedrooms.
The first four storeys of the Tower were non-residential until its most recent refurbishment in 2015–2016, which converted two of them to residential use, bringing it up to 127 flats and 227 bedrooms. It also received new windows and new cladding with thermal insulation during this refurbishment.
The large fire that engulfed the building started in the early hours of June 14 and at least 79 people are confirmed or presumed dead, according to London Metropolitan police. Facts are still scanty as to the cause of the fire by investigators have alleged that fire was started by a Hotpoint fridge-freezer before spreading to the building’s ‘combustible’ cladding.
That huge blaze has been linked to cladding material, Reynobond PE, used in the refurbishment of the building a couple of years ago, raising the huge question as to the level of risk reviews on the material before use. Reynobond PE are panels that are combined with insulation to form cladding now revealed to be flammable.
Its manufacturer, Arconic, said early this week that it has pulled the material from sale around the world. Reynobond PE, one of several options offered by the company and not the most fire-retardant, has been banned for use on towers in countries including Germany and the US, but not the UK.
“Arconic is discontinuing global sales of Reynobond PE for use in high-rise applications. We believe this is the right decision because of the inconsistency of building codes across the world and issues that have arisen in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy regarding code compliance of cladding systems in the context of buildings’ overall designs”, the manufacturer said in a statement recently.
Building experts say the Grenfell tragedy provides good opportunity for thorough risk assessment of building materials, calling attention to the many variants of some cladding materials adorning many commercial buildings in Nigeria.
The Reynobond PE used in Grenfell Tower features a polyethylene core that is less fire-resistant than Reynobond FR, initials that stand for ‘fire resistant’. “Many of the cladding materials adorning many buildings in Nigerian towns and cities also have these characteristics”, the experts warn.
Worrisome facts emerging from the Grenfell incident indicate that there was a lack of adequate or operating fire sprinklers, integrated fire systems and adequate means of escape which lend credence to the allegation that the structure of the building contributed significantly to the magnitude of the destruction and casualty figure recorded.
“As an industry professional, I am even more alarmed that the building underwent an 8.7 pound refurbishment which included upgrades to the heating system and installation of aluminum composite panels to the outer facades of the tower block”, said Femi Akintunde, CEO, AMFacilities, in an emailed reaction to the London incident.
Akintunde quoted the former chairman of Grenfell Tower property management company as saying that the refurbishment contract should never have been assigned to the appointed contractors because it was too big for them.
“We should take this opportunity to review our own practices and I urge all responsible property owners to ensure that the right people are engaged to manage our property; we should engage an experienced and professional facilities manager and no matter how big or small your property is, ensure that risk reviews are completed and the building is safe for the occupants”, he advised.
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