Combustible cladding material ignited during remediation work

Combustible insulation on a high-rise residential building caught fire recently during cladding remediation work, it has emerged.

An anonymised report submitted to the independent safety body Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures UK (CROSS-UK) suggests that unsafe working practices are likely to be behind this case.

The incident was discovered by a CROSS reporter during a recent visit to a residential high-rise cladding remediation project.

According to CROSS-UK, 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.

“Friction from powered cutting tools was 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.”

The account also noted that “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."

A worrying report

The report said that unsafe working practices would appear to be the underlying cause of the near miss.

“It is the principal contractor’s responsibility 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 concerning the proposed works on site,” the report continued.

“Any hot works must meet the requirement of HSG 168 Fire Safety in Construction and where applicable the Joint Code of Practice for Fire Prevention on Construction Sites.

Commenting on the report’s findings, a CROSS-UK expert panel said: “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 of construction operatives.”

The expert panel added that this report highlights the need to ingrain fire safety culture onsite and alert Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) in these cases: “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.”

High-rises across the country are undergoing remediation works after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, including the removal of unsafe cladding. Most buildings are occupied while the works are taking place.

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