Owners of residential blocks over 18 meters high given outline of work needed after Grenfell disaster

The UK Government has announced that it will be working to support building owners and gain assurance that remediation work is carried out appropriately in the wake of the deadly fire at Grenfell Tower in London.

Building owners are being asked to provide regular returns confirming the scope and progress of remediation works and further briefing notes are to be published by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in the coming weeks.

These will be aligned with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Plan of Work, a guide which sets out the different stages of a construction project, and will include advice on feasibility issues and options appraisal, including a summary of cladding systems available and issues to be considered when replacing part or all of the cladding system.

Hundreds of buildings, owned by private landlords and councils, are having their cladding systems tested and replaced if they comprise the same materials that have failed Government tests on fire and safety after the fire in the high rise block which killed at least 80 people.

The latest information from the DCLG says that given the particular concerns around ACM cladding, the primary focus to date of the first phase of the Building Safety has been testing ACM cladding systems.

With the large scale tests now complete, the Government, supported by the Expert Panel, is considering whether there may be heightened risks linked to other issues, such as other cladding systems and broader safety issues.

‘The Expert Panel will consider whether there is any further advice that is needed for building owners in relation to any wider issues, and any updates will be posted over the coming months on the Building Safety Programme webpage,’ said a DCLG statement.

As a first step to understand what other cladding systems may be safe on high rise buildings, the BRE has sought permission from its clients and is publishing a list of historical data on cladding systems which have passed the BS8414 test set out in current Building Regulations guidance.

‘Alongside this work to ensure that existing buildings are safe, the Government is also taking forward work on the next phase, to identify changes needed to make buildings safe in future,’ the statement also said.

So far the guidance is that ACM cladding with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3) presents a significant fire hazard on buildings over 18 meters with any form of insulation; ACM cladding with fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2) also presents a notable fire hazard when used with rigid polymeric foam based on the evidence currently available.

But ACM cladding with A2 filler (category 1) can be safe on buildings over 18 meters with foam insulation or stone wool insulation, if materials have been fitted and maintained appropriately, and the building’s construction meets the other provisions of Building Regulations guidance, including provision for fire breaks and cavity barriers.

‘In all instances, building owners have been advised that they should seek professional advice on what further steps to take with respect to their cladding system based on the specific circumstances of their building, and to satisfy themselves that their building is safe,’ the statement continues.

‘All building owners have also been advised to ensure their local FRS has visited to complete a fire safety audit of their building, and that they have implemented the recommended interim measures,’ it adds.

The statement confirms that the number of buildings screened and covered by large scale tests is 294 throughout the UK, with the vast majority, 278, England.

Owners of buildings with wall systems which failed tests they are advised to carry out measures recommended by the Expert Panel for ensuring the safety of residents and to work with local fire and rescue services to ensure any necessary mitigation measures are in place.

They are also advised to take professional advice on what further steps to take with respect to their cladding system. This professional advice may be obtained from a qualified chartered professional with relevant experience in fire safety, including fire testing of building products and systems, such as a chartered engineer or surveyor registered with the Engineering Council by the Institution of Fire Engineers or a chartered professional from another built environment profession specialising in fire safety consultancy.

Building owners are told to take professional advice to ensure that any remedial work is undertaken safely, for example from an expert in cladding systems with relevant experience, and to ensure any replacement materials are safe.

They should assure themselves that remedial work also complies with Building Regulations guidance on how the system is designed and fitted, including provisions for fire breaks and cavity barriers and ensure that when any work is carried out, including removing cladding, care is taken to consider the impact that removal may have on the other wall elements, and therefore on the overall structural and fire integrity of the building as well as other Building Regulation requirements.

In particular care should be taken to ensure that insulation material is not exposed to the elements unnecessarily.

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