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Sanctuary
Sanctuary
4647 posts

Grenfell Tower Block
Jul 03, 2017, 11:46
Was looking at some awful pix of the burnt out shell taken through some windows. My first thought was how large the rooms were, until the penny dropped that I could be looking at the whole flat minus its room dividing walls.

Although I spent my working life as a carpenter/joiner, I never once worked on a high-rise block of flats but erected oodles of plasterboard covered studwork partitions in houses and three story building such as care homes etc, so have no knowledge of the materials used for room dividers in tower blocks.

So, my question is - were the room dividers studwork or blockwork/concrete/brick as I've not heard mention of them? The main support internal walls would have been reinforced concrete one assumes but what about the rest?

In my day the stud walls were broadly covered with 30 minute fire retardant Gypsum plasterboard sheets and plaster skimmed, but today I believe you can get 4 hour ones!

If they were timber partitions I can see now why the building burnt for so long.
grufty jim
grufty jim
1940 posts

Re: Grenfell Tower Block
Jul 03, 2017, 12:49
I've talked to my wife about this a few times over the past weeks. She's quite uniquely qualified to comment on it (certainly a lot more than me!) She's an architect who spent some time as a fire-safety specialist.

Also -- her apartment (in a high-rise block) was gutted by fire when she was a kid. So it's something she's looked at from most perspectives.

She's way too professional to make any definitive statements without knowing all the facts; but she's very clear about one thing -- this should never have happened. Building materials and safety standards for high-rise blocks (certainly in Europe) are focused on preventing exactly this kind of thing (the spread of fire from one unit to another).

And they work. If adhered to.

An appliance fire in one apartment should never be capable of spreading to the next apartment in less than a certain time period.

4-hour fire-rated walls do exist (as you mentioned). Apparently the way it works, though, is that usually the higher the building, the higher the fire-rating. My wife can't speak to UK regulations specifically. But based on best-practice elsewhere, she suggests a 90-minute rating would be the bare minimum for a block like Grenfell.

The fire spread much faster than that. There was clearly a catastrophic failure of the building's fire safety features. Whether that was the external cladding, or something else... or some combination of factors... we'll need a proper inquiry to discover the truth.

But someone (or someones) screwed up badly here. There are systems in place to make sure this can't happen, and when they fail it is almost always because someone cut corners somewhere. Of course there are exceptions -- and maybe this will be one of them -- but odds are there are people out there right now who are getting very quiet legal advice.
Sanctuary
Sanctuary
4647 posts

Re: Grenfell Tower Block
Jul 03, 2017, 15:09
grufty jim wrote:
I've talked to my wife about this a few times over the past weeks. She's quite uniquely qualified to comment on it (certainly a lot more than me!) She's an architect who spent some time as a fire-safety specialist.

Also -- her apartment (in a high-rise block) was gutted by fire when she was a kid. So it's something she's looked at from most perspectives.

She's way too professional to make any definitive statements without knowing all the facts; but she's very clear about one thing -- this should never have happened. Building materials and safety standards for high-rise blocks (certainly in Europe) are focused on preventing exactly this kind of thing (the spread of fire from one unit to another).

And they work. If adhered to.

An appliance fire in one apartment should never be capable of spreading to the next apartment in less than a certain time period.

4-hour fire-rated walls do exist (as you mentioned). Apparently the way it works, though, is that usually the higher the building, the higher the fire-rating. My wife can't speak to UK regulations specifically. But based on best-practice elsewhere, she suggests a 90-minute rating would be the bare minimum for a block like Grenfell.

The fire spread much faster than that. There was clearly a catastrophic failure of the building's fire safety features. Whether that was the external cladding, or something else... or some combination of factors... we'll need a proper inquiry to discover the truth.

But someone (or someones) screwed up badly here. There are systems in place to make sure this can't happen, and when they fail it is almost always because someone cut corners somewhere. Of course there are exceptions -- and maybe this will be one of them -- but odds are there are people out there right now who are getting very quiet legal advice.


As you will know Jim, your wife (or a company she may work for) would be approached by either a builder or the builders customer to draw up the plans for a particular job. A material list would accompany the plans when they were presented to Building Control and all rules and regs that applied highlighted. Presented correctly it ensures you get a yes or no back sooner rather than later.
It is Building Controls job to approve of ALL materials used and if they have any concerns beforehand then they approach the manufactures for advice and any technical details they should know about. Test results would be asked for that were carried out by independents. Once satisfied all is well they are free to allow approval of the plans and the work to go ahead.

Enter the BC Building Inspector. His job is to see that all work is carried out per the full specification and any changes decided upon during the work to be approved by Building Control before commencement.
The BI 'signs off' each stage of the work (groundwork and drainage first) before the next stage is allowed to commence. It is the Inspectors job to ensure that the builders only use the materials approved of on the plan and nothing else unless getting BC approval. It is quite common for builders to opt for a new cheaper brand of product if it offers an equal or higher rating than that specified if the BI approves.

So the job finishes and the Building Inspector looks at all the stages he has signed off including the quality of the work and if satisfied signs the pink slip. Job done!

At the end of the day the buck stops at Building Control as it was them and their man/woman who's job it was to ensure all the correct safety materials were used as specified and alternatives equally approved of.

My guess is that BC are keeping a low profile right now!
grufty jim
grufty jim
1940 posts

Re: Grenfell Tower Block
Jul 03, 2017, 15:38
Sanctuary wrote:
At the end of the day the buck stops at Building Control as it was them and their man/woman who's job it was to ensure all the correct safety materials were used as specified and alternatives equally approved of.

My guess is that BC are keeping a low profile right now!


Thing is... that may not actually be the case. Over the past few years there has been a trend towards "self-certification" for things like fire-safety and disabled-access compliance. All part of the grand project of "deregulation".

Therefore, *IF* the aspect of the building that breached regulations (for the sake of argument... let's say it was the external cladding) was legally "self-certified" by a contractor, it may have nothing whatsoever to do with a public building compliance officer.

I'm not saying it's a *good* thing that contractors can self-certify. In fact, I'm fairly sure it's not. But that's been the trend in construction over the past few years and Grenfell may be a case where this system is exposed as dangerous.

Or not. It's all still speculation based on incomplete info.
Sanctuary
Sanctuary
4647 posts

Re: Grenfell Tower Block
Jul 03, 2017, 16:19
grufty jim wrote:


Or not. It's all still speculation based on incomplete info.


Yep, that's the bottom line at the moment.
tjj
tjj
3314 posts

Re: Grenfell Tower Block
Jul 03, 2017, 18:43
This is a catastrophe of monumental and historic proportions - the only other accident I can compare it to was the Kings Cross Fire of 1987 where a cigarette end caught fire to a wooden escalator - with a much smaller loss of life, though many injured.
As it happens one of my sons fits cladding for a living, though he has never worked on a tower block. Like you with your wife, I've discussed it with him. He says the correct way to fit cladding is to leave a gap behind it (which seems to have been part of the problem) and it wasn't the way it was fitted but the materials used that were at fault. As I said elsewhere, I used to live in the area many years ago. Had fate not caused me to move away I could well have ended up living in one of those tower blocks. Am grateful for some of the twists and turns life has taken which seemed to work out for the best in the end.
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