Association of Residential Managing Agents

Members' Area

Cladding: Issues, Shortfalls and Responsible Persons

By Dorian Lawrence MCIOB,  Managing Director, Façade Remedial
Consultants Ltd (FRC)
.

The concept of Rainscreen Cladding Systems has been used for a number of decades but started becoming a favoured method of construction in the UK during the mid-1990’s.

Whilst the recent media coverage of Rainscreen Cladding has been predominantly negative, for reasons we will elaborate on below, it has become increasingly popular due to its speed of construction – the system can become watertight in almost half the time when compared to traditional block and brickwork construction. This doesn’t include the great British weather factor, which would also delay traditional construction further, whereas Rainscreen Cladding installation could carry on without disruption.

There is also an environmental benefit to Rainscreen Cladding with many products able to achieve thermal and UV values blockwork construction simply could not achieve. Finally, there are the numerous artistic benefits of Rainscreen Cladding with products readily available in all shapes, sizes and colours suitable to match the creative environment of the modern society.

With the good however, does come the bad.

On 14 June 2017, a fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London just before 1:00 am BST; it caused 72 deaths. This tragic event threw the issues regarding the safety of façade system construction into the spotlight. Significant shortcomings, contradictions and ambiguity contained within past and present building regulations were discovered, along with an almost embedded industry complacency to blindly follow them, rather than strive for best practice regarding safe building construction.

These were uncovered as part of The Hackitt Report, commissioned in the aftermath of Grenfell.  One of the main areas of contention was the classification of materials deemed safe for use on buildings both above and below 18m. The British Standard Class 0 rating for spread of flame was wrongly deemed to be an appropriate measure of establishing a products fire safety rating, even though this was not a test of combustibility. Architects, Insurers and Developers immediately felt the effects of this with additional design and build costs compounded by rapidly increasing Professional Indemnity premiums. Human life should not have been the cost that prompted these conversations.

The Euroclass Rating system was introduced as an effective method of testing the combustibility of products, yet the British Standard Class 0 rating still wrongly remained in the building regulations. Post-Grenfell, it was clear that some product classification was incorrect and the Government commissioned testing on ACM (Aluminium Composite Material) cladding to establish the facts surrounding the products combustibility. The results were unanimous and showed that polyethylene-cored ACM cladding has a similar calorific value, energy released when burned in MJ/kg, as petrol.

 

Euroclass Rating

Definition

Example Materials

A1

Non-Combustible

Mineral Wool, Terracotta, Concrete, Plain Aluminium

A2

Limited Combustibility

Powder Coated Aluminium

B-s3, d2 (or better)

Low Risk

Phenolic Foams, ACM

C-s3, d2 (or better)

Medium Risk

Phenolic Foams, PIR, HPL (High Pressure Laminate), ACM

D-s3, d2 (or better)

High Risk

PIR (Polyisocyanurate), ACM, HPL

E-s3, d2 (or better)

Very High Risk

Flame Retardant EPS (Expanded Polystyrene), Render, PUR

F-s3, d2 (or better)

Very High Risk

Standard EPS Render, PUR (Polyurethane)

(Source: Compiled from information available from product data sheets from manufacturers)

The Government followed up by issuing Advice Notes 1-12 to freeholders and building managers, as responsible persons, making them aware of the test results and ensure they had their cladding examined to identify whether ACM was present and take the appropriate remedial action. One issue with the testing mechanism was that if the product was not ACM, no further details were given, often leading responsible persons to believe their façade was therefore safe.

Through a sustained campaign of industry lobbying, the Government widened its focus to other cladding products including HPL (High Pressure Laminate), Zinc and Copper composite cladding and has started to include guidance upon the whole façade system including insulation, fire barriers and substructure. Further Advice Notes followed, reinforcing the requirement for responsible persons to engage the services of competent specialist companies to report on the safety of their building.

This includes identifying the type of insulation used and if fire barriers are correctly installed, addressing the system as a whole, rather than simply identification of the external cladding, which is only one element of the facades’ construction. As concluded in the Hackitt Review, simply reviewing an Operation & Maintenance manual should not be relied upon when trying to establish which products are, and how they have been installed, on your building. In our experience of O&M interrogation, the majority of ‘technical drawings’ included are architectural designs, rather than as-built diagrams. This means that products and methods used during construction may differ entirely to what is shown.

All Government Advice Notes relating to façade safety can be viewed and downloaded at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-building-safety-programme#advice-notes

Whilst the Government Advice Notes are commonly considered as exactly that, advice, it is worth noting that in the view of our legal technical partners, “The Government has issued a series of advice notes in relation to cladding systems on buildings. These include both ACM and non-ACM cladding systems. Owners/Occupiers of Buildings need to review and consider these directives carefully. As the directives make clear, the obligation is one of Health and Safety and meeting obligations under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Owner or occupier will be well advised to make sure they comply with the guidance. H&S law compliance is a continuing obligation. The penalties for breaches can be severe, including unlimited fines and prison sentences. The Courts have been told to impose tougher sentences. As well as meeting H&S law obligations, proper regard to the directives is actually in the best interests of the owner/occupier not only in terms of their insurance, their staff and visitors, PR etc but also because time could be ticking away on potential recovery claims so not attending promptly to the guidance could be detrimental on a whole series of levels".

The Health and Safety Executive has imposed substantial fines in the past and implied unlimited financial penalties and custodial sentences may be brought against responsible persons found to be in breach of either internal or external fire safety, therefore these liabilities cannot be ignored.

Whilst the Grenfell tragedy emphasised the need to clarify and improve the criteria for the fire performance on products, there is still no formal enforcement on the installation quality. Poor installation and product failures have also had a consequence of loss of life. In October 2018, a window falling from the top floor of a London apartment block tragically struck and killed a coach driver who was returning from a rest break. Whilst the cause of the failure was not attributed to the product or installation, a panel which is poorly fixed could potentially cause the next catastrophe.

Whilst carrying out our facade reports, we have encountered as many instances of poor installation and workmanship as we have instances of combustible materials.

The image below highlights an example of a cladding system we reported on, taken from 13th floor level. As seen, there are fixings missing and loose rivet fixings protruding from their holes and ready to fall approximately 30m onto unsuspecting passers-by. The lack of fixings has dislodged the cladding panels, causing further stress to the remaining fixings and accelerated dilapidation.

Following on from the fire in Barking on the 9th of June, façade attachments such as balconies were subject to a further advice note. Government Advice Note 21 was subsequently released, outlining the need for immediate reporting on balconies, their use and construction, irrespective of the building’s height. Combustible balconies, as Barking showed, are potentially a catalyst for accelerated fire spread, which may also limit escape routes or draw fires into internal areas.

Internal fire spread and external fire spread pose similar issues if compartmentation in either location is poor installed or non-existent. Should your building be over 18 metres in height, the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 legally requires responsible persons to carry out an internal compartmentation survey in addition to the fire risk assessment. This will highlight any internal areas which may act as a route for fire spread and provide an action plan on how to remediate these issues.

The freeholder and/or managing agent acting on their behalf are responsible for ensuring the safety of the building and its occupants. This includes fully establishing both internal and external safety and carrying out remedial actions where necessary to mitigate risk.

FRC are proud of the continued support we have given to our clients during and post façade report. A number have come to us with a façade report but no follow up plan on what this means for them, the steps they should take or their liabilities. FRC’s unique process allows us to establish if the works are compliant to the building regulations, and if not, follow the appropriate steps to enable recovery of costs. We also clearly identify if the works are compliant to the Government Advice Notes.

An example of progressing a report onto remediation stage would be our involvement with a block in London, constructed of combustible phenolic insulation and ACM cladding. After carrying out our report we were able to work in conjunction with the Residents Management Company and the Managing Agent to start a process of recourse through their building insurance policy. This resulted in agreement of the works being carried out under the policy with no charge to the leaseholders or freeholders.

So where does this leave us? If you are unsure of the materials or construction methods used in your building, we strongly advise that you take immediate steps to remedy this, presenting you with full knowledge of the internal and external fire safety performance to ensure the safety of the occupants.

With thanks to Dorian Lawrence MCIOB,  Managing Director, Façade Remedial
Consultants Ltd (FRC), Tel:
01794 332456, Email: Dorian@frcconsultants.co.uk or enquiries@frcconsultants.co.uk.

We are now a proud partner of @ARMAleasehold, the Association of Residential Managing Agents, through which we will… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

8 hours ago

We're setting the standards in #PropertyManagement - are you #ARMA accredited? Join ARMA now bit.ly/2vA3mAF pic.twitter.com/jJapRKF2Uj

21 February 2018

Welcome to all delegates on our TC37 "Right to Manage" #training in #Wimbledon today with Neil Maloney… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

12 hours ago

Thank you for your support Robert! twitter.com/rbrownac/statu…

12 hours ago

Live in a flat? Free advice docs on everything from choosing a #managingagent to Service Charges… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…

27 February 2018

#ARMA members, take full advantage of a range of exclusive benefits bit.ly/2D71V0n pic.twitter.com/vRiW1KSut8

22 October
Subscribe