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18 January 2019
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Grenfell shutterstock
Grenfell Tower, London (Credit: Shutterstock)

27 June 2017 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal


While the public inquiry into the horrific Grenfell Tower fire goes on, details are emerging of the factors which led to the tragedy which claimed the lives of 79 people.

Last week Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament that while there had be caution in speculating what caused the fire as investigations went on, the government had arranged to test cladding in all relevant tower blocks. 

She said: “Shortly before I came to the chamber [in Parliament] I was informed that a number of these tests have come back as combustible. The relevant local authorities and local fire services have been informed and as I speak, they are taking all possible steps to ensure buildings are safe and to inform affected residents.”

Earlier Chancellor Philip Hammond had said: “My understanding is that the cladding in question [at Grenfell Tower] is flammable cladding which is banned in Europe and US, is also banned here. The questions are: are our regulations correct? Do they permit the right kind of materials and banned the wrong kind of materials? Secondly, were they correctly complied with? That is a subject the inquiry will look at but also what the separate criminal investigation will look at.” 

Rydon Maintenance Limited completed a partial refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation on behalf of the Council – subcontracting out smaller elements of the work.  Robert Bond, CEO, Rydon Group, said: “The project met all required building regulations and handover took place when the completion notice was issued by the Department of Building Control, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.”

Cladding subcontractor Harley Facades Limited was responsible for the installation of exterior cladding called Reynobond PE - of which two types exist including a more fire resistant version. According to the company’s website the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels are “a commonly used product in the refurbishment industry” but states that Harley Facades Limited did not manufacture the panels. Ray Bailey, managing director said “at this time, we are not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower”. 

However, those that actually supplied the cladding - Omnis Exteriors - responded to comments made by the Chancellor stating the cladding material used on Grenfell Tower “Reynobond PE is not banned in the U.K.” and “current building regulations allow its use in both low rise and high rise structures”.

John Cowley, managing director of CEP Architectural Facades, the company which fabricated the panels and windows for Grenfell Tower, added: “Whilst we do design and supply whole systems, in this case we were one part of the jigsaw with components coming from a variety of suppliers, working with materials and specifications determined by the contractors.”

He added: “The key question now is whether the overall design of the building’s complete exterior was properly tested and subsequently signed off by the relevant authorities including the fire officer, building compliance officer and architect before commencement of the project?”

The KCTMO who managed Grenfell Tower, has released a statement saying it is continuing to “play an important role in gathering all relevant information that will enable us to assist fully with investigations” but offering little else by way of comment. 

Stacey Collins, head of environment, health and safety at training provider International Workplace, said: “A very important question for an inquiry to establish is whether or not [the burning away of exterior facade material] occurred as a result of a fire that was already far more intense than containment should normally allow or whether, in fact, the exterior was the catalyst for unprecedented fire spread.

“On behavioural safety, it is really important that we establish, as soon as we can, whether or not the containment and ’stay put’ philosophy is a valid policy or if it hasn’t been fatally undermined.” He also says the “absence of sufficient means of escape and the contribution of sprinklers to limiting fire spread in a fire of this type should be spelled out”. 

Collins added: “A potentially enormous change to fire engineering design and fire safety practice will hang on this inquiry.”