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News feature: why the Building Regs are failing on fire safety


Great respect for Sam Webb who resisted the attempts to demolish Ronan Point in such haste as would have destroyed the key evidence of why and how that collapse occurred. The following points strike me, but seem to have been submerged in the hue & cry over a single element in this disaster, and as many will know it is far more the alignment of several smaller failings than a single factor that delivers most major building incidents. 1) Aluminium has been dropped as a material for the superstructure of many warships due to poor fire performance. 2) Aluminium reacts with water to produce hydrogen with this process enhanced by heat (the reaction with molten Aluminium (at around 700C) is explosive. 3) Aluminium powder (ie to maximise surface area against material volume) is used in the Thermite process to deliver molten iron at around 2500C - the aluminium is mixed with iron oxide (rust) and with a heat trigger/fuse will then 'burn' fiercely. 4) putting water on to a fire with aluminium carries a high risk that hydrogen will be produced (blue flames were reported) enhancing the fire. 5) regulations for cladding carry vague options for a choice of fire break provision which has to operate (ie not a passive system) when heat triggers a system to close off the air-space between the cladding and the core building. The building walls should also be 'sealed' and experience of a building across the street with limestone cladding indicates that this was clearly not delivered on that project. Cladding fire compartmentalisation was either non-existent or failed spectacularly at Grenfell Tower 6) There were survivors who successfully created a place of safety and stayed in the building. One was reported to have sealed a room and flooded it by turning on every possible source of water in the flat. 7) The fire stairs escape route filled with smoke. Why and how? In hazardous plant the places of safety have positive pressure and even air-lock access. I learned that some fire stairs used extraction to pull fresh air in - but surely that will also draw in smoke from any poor seals, and compromise the fire door closure sealing. There is an area of research to assess the risk posed by a crash air 'feed' into hot combustion gases and even the fire source, when a fire door is opened to escape to a 'place of safety' under positive pressure. this might also see a requirement for fire escape crash-bar doors, which include a 'venting' port that releases a positive pressure that may be holding them closed. 8) Key scrutiny of the planning and management of the access to the site - my personal experience of a clear omission of detail from a planning application, and despite various representations, the development blocking fire brigade access to an under-building car park, and the area behind some 70 flats, plus the 2 installed dry rider inlets (these had to be moved when - I raised this with the fire brigade - post construction - they could not get a pump within 1 hose length of the dry riser inlet). I am obviously concerned, but hope this will never need to be tested by a real serious fire. 9) A bigger question of buildings management also arises - how often for example does any building actually run a fire drill with evacuation to muster points or use of places of safety within the building? Buildings with the implicated cladding might still be safe to occupy, if they have clear delivery of 'clean air' places of safety and escape routes, plus a proven fire containment system for the external cladding, preventing the vertical spread of fire seem at Grenfell Tower.

Posted date

5 July, 2017

Posted time

2:27 pm


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