Did the Conflicted and Privatised BRE lull DCLG into False Sense of Security over #Grenfell Fire?

In 2015 the BRE were commissioned by the DLCG to carry out research on the flammability of external cladding.  It was only today it was published alongside an extension till 2018 (following ba gap of nearly two years.  Why is that?  Blame passing surely not.

BRE Global, through the contract with DCLG, investigate fires that may have implications for Building Regulations. With the exception of one or two unfortunate but rare cases, there is currently no evidence from these investigations to suggest that the current recommendations, to limit vertical fire spread up the exterior of high-rise buildings, are failing in their purpose.However, as the need to improve energy efficiency becomes increasingly urgent, more innovative ways to insulate buildings to improve their sustainability and energy efficiency are changing the external surfaces of buildings with an increase in the volume of potentially combustible materials being applied. A number ofsignificant fires, such as those discussed previously, have demonstrated the potential risks.
It was agreed with DCLG to carry out three experiments, to assess the performance of different external façades including non-fire rated double glazing, when exposed to a fire from below, representative of the external face of some buildings.

The experiments conducted basically was pasting internal plasterboard to the outside of a building, not aluminium composite material (ACM) with a combustible polycarbonate fill. Nor did they involve a cavity.  The tests showed that unprotected windows could fail and this could lead to a fire spread and breach of compartmentalisation.  There was no evidence the BRE had looked at ionternational evidence of fire spread from use of such cladding. So why then did they concludethat ‘media attention’about the risks of such fires were a çommon misconception’?

In 2014, according to the BBC

Liberal Democrat MP Steven Williams – who was then a minister in the department – replied (To the all party parliamentary fire safety group

: “I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward.”

The group replied to say they “were at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence, which had life safety implications, was NOT considered to be urgent”.

Why did Williams consider it was not urgent?  The DCLG no longer had a chief construction advisor, it relied on the BRE for expert evidence and the BRE had been privatised in 1997.

Independent of Government ties, BRE was also now able to certify and approve products that it tested, and so BRE Certification was born in 1999.

Certification is independent confirmation by an expert third party that a product, system or service meets, and continues to meet, appropriate standards.

he Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) has been working with industry and government for more than 100 years to set the standards needed to ensure that fire and security products and services perform effectively. LPCB offers third-party approval confirming that products and services have met and will continue to meet these standards. This benefits both specifiers and manufacturers:

Specifiers selecting LPCB approved products reduce fire safety and security risks and demonstrate due diligence (the use of approved products is encouraged by insurers). They also avoid wasting money on purchasing inappropriate equipment, and save time spent on searching for and assessing products and services.

BRE certifies specialist fire safety equipment but NOT building materials.  This is the responsibility of the independent British Board of Agrement which certified the panels in question – certified materials have enhanced status under the building regs.  Though separate BBA and BRE effectively share a site in the same campus in Brickett Wood Watford and BRE has commercial arrangements with BBA.

The privatisation of BRE raises many potential conflicts of interest.  The case of a BRE fiore investigator finding BRE fire safety approved systems on a site is even mentioned on their website.   

I suspect however the issue is much more cultural – the BRE being a bastion of the building industry – would be unwilling to rock the boat and suggest that a widely used construction material should be removed and retrofitted years after the event of iots installation.

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