Smoke toxicity risk needs action

The Fire Protection Association (FPA) is calling on the government to consider the role that smoke toxicity should play in product approvals before making its final decision on the acceptability of combustible building materials.

The call follows publication of the association’s new research into the toxic fumes generated by certain building cladding combinations that are still permitted by building regulations – and the effect they have on the people inside buildings if a fire breaks out.

The association has provided the results of its research to both government and the Grenfell Inquiry, and hopes that the information will help them strengthen regulations in respect of fire and smoke ingress and prompt further research into whether the evaluation of fire toxicity should become an integral part of the building products approval process.

Dr Jim Glockling, the Fire Protection Association’s technical director, said: “Measuring smoke toxicity in building products is currently not a legal requirement. The results of our study show that current regulations may not adequately protect occupants from the potentially toxic fire gases from materials burning on the outside of buildings. Some current common cladding material combinations were shown to present less of a threat than others. There is certainly a need for further study.”

The association’s research, carried out over four months, involved testing a selection of cladding and insulation combinations legitimately used on buildings in the UK, including rain-screen type cladding like that used on Grenfell Tower.

While strict rules govern how the internal walls of a building must contain fire, there are few requirements for external walls to prevent the spread of flame and heat from outside. This means that features such as bathroom or kitchen vents can have the potential to spread fire and smoke from the cladding system into the occupied space.

The research looked at a typical living room in a building covered in a rain-screen type cladding, and the findings suggest that for some material combinations, once the fire breaks into a section of cladding that contains a vent connected to an apartment, people inside will probably lose consciousness within 10 minutes and, unless rescued, will die within 30 minutes.

“Regular review of building standards is needed”

Jonathan O’Neill, the association’s managing director, said: “This work reinforces our view that a range of factors, such as measurement of toxic fumes, need to be considered when choosing building materials, in order to protect buildings and ultimately save lives. The Fire Protection Association wants assurance from government that systems are in place to regularly review building standards to ensure that the UK can never experience a tragedy on the scale we witnessed at Grenfell – on our or any future generations’ watch.”

The FPA works with research companies, government bodies, industry and the insurance community. The toxic smoke testing report was funded by the UK insurance industry through RISCAuthority, which conducts research in support of the development and dissemination of best practice on the protection of property and business.

Click here to read the full report.

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