Combustible Plastic Materials: Unsafe in Schools, Hospitals and Residential Homes

72 people died in the infamous Grenfell Tower Building, situated in London, UK. The fire was due to it being ‘wrapped in plastic’. Surely this council building must be a horrible exception?

Grenfell Fire

No matter how low or high the building, combustible plastic materials should never have been used in the construction of any building. Years later, after the fire, full assessments of all buildings have been made for the UK, and there are THOUSANDS of buildings which have incorporated the plastic material as cladding and insulation. The process of carrying out the specialised fire safety assessment is an extra qualification demanded by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. At the time of the Grenfell Fire, there were insufficient surveyors with this extra qualification. It is like running hospitals without enough nurses. Yet the system is undermanned, I feel certain, those who lobby against Health and Safety regulations do so to escape stricter standards. Standards should be high in order to prevent deaths such as those which occurred in the inferno of Grenfell Tower. It is unsettling to know that lobbyists can reduce these standards despite horrendous consequences. Corporates apply Conscious Disregard as a matter of doing business.

The plastics-based materials industry has lobbied government to minimise the threat to their industry! Kingspan is one of the major lobbyists. An Irish company, it provided some of the combustible phenolic foam used on Grenfell Tower. It objects to an ‘outright ban’ on such materials. Once this company’s name became known to people, the logo was spotted on foam boards on a building site of a new school and parents immediately flew into a concerted anger aimed at their local council to not repeat the errors of Grenfell.

How could such boards have ever been given a fire safety certificate?

We expect architects to assign safety as a priority in their building design? Builders must surely also agree the specification of materials must have the highest safety standard? Governments certainly should ensure the safety of their citizens wherever they reside?

Obviously we were mistaken in our expectations.

In 2017 this graphic was displayed in an online learning course for architects.

Testing of materials is expensive, as this American online course explains:

NFPA 286: Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Evaluating Contribution of Wall and Ceiling Interior Finish to Room Fire Growth

The flame spread test is not reflective of real-world conditions, so NFPA developed a second test to better simulate conditions in an actual fire. NFPA 286 measures flame spread in a room configuration, including fire spread along walls, ceilings, and combinations of both. Though this method is preferred over NFPA 255, it is more expensive. Test results for heat, smoke, and combustion product release from NFPA 286 can be used in fire models for performance-based design, whereas results from NFPA 255 cannot.

Was lack of testing on these combustible materials purely an economic decision?

In the UK we now have updated and clearer specifications. This is ‘after the horse has bolted’.

………….the key criteria that must be met for a product to be used as external wall cladding. It specifically mentions that the material that is used as external cladding for relevant buildings above 18m in height must have a European Classification (see below) of A2-S1-d0 or higher. In this context, point (4) subsection “a” outlines the meaning of the phrase ‘relevant buildings’ which states that ‘relevant buildings’ refers to a building more than 18m above ground level which contains a storey which contains (1) one or more dwellings; (2) an institution or (3) a room for residential purposes (with certain exceptions). Institutions in this instance refers to residential areas, schools, care homes, hospitals, sheltered accommodation, student residences and other institutional accommodation buildings.

We need to act with intent to protect those who inhabit buildings, who trust those who construct our public and private buildings not to skimp on safety by purchasing inferior and dangerous materials not properly tested or accredited. Our Firemen brave these toxic and dangerous situations far too often as a result, being placed in added danger due to toxicity and flame spread issues of combustible plastics.

Grenfell will remain a constant reminder, even though there are plans to demolish the building, like 9/11 the terror of burning tower blocks lives in our memories.


About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers. In 1998 I co-wrote Millennium Countdown (US)/ A Business Guide to the Year 2000 (UK) see
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