As demonstrated by the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, fires can and do kill, injure, and cause suffering and financial loss. This is particularly prevalent in buildings such as tower blocks and office buildings where fires can spread quickly and escape may be difficult.
What can the construction industry learn from the Grenfell Tower tragedy?
All construction projects, large or small, need to ensure that all fire safety requirements are managed from the earliest stages of design and procurement to minimise the damage that fire can cause. The sourcing of materials should consider the three ways fire can spread:
Convection – fire spread by convection is the most dangerous and causes the largest number of injuries and deaths. When fires start in enclosed spaces such as buildings, the smoke rising from the fire gets trapped by the ceiling and then spreads in all directions to form an ever-deepening layer over the entire room space. The smoke will pass through any holes or gaps in the walls, ceiling and floor into other parts of the building. The heat from the fire is trapped in the building causing the temperature to rise.
Conduction – some materials, such as structural steel, pipe work and ducting absorb heat and transmit it to the next room, where it can set fire to combustible items that are in contact with the heated material.
Radiation – radiation heats any solid it strikes in the same way as an electric bar heater heats a room. Any material close to a fire will absorb the heat until the item starts to smoulder and then burn.
Taking this information into consideration, thorough research during the planning stage is paramount as use of sub-standard materials can result in serious consequences. This was the case when it was discovered that the cladding panels used on the Grenfell Tower contributed to the rapid spread of fire. It has been reported that the manufacturer’s own brochure stated that the cladding applied to this tower should only be used in buildings up to 10 metres, with more fire-resistant products recommended above that height. Grenfell Tower was more than 60 metres tall.
Cladding tests have been performed on similar buildings across the country and to date 45 local authorities in England had tower blocks that failed tests, as 100% of the cladding samples tested were found to have combustible material.
Thankfully tragedies such as this are rare.
Miles Smith and the construction industry
Miles Smith understands the challenges faced by businesses within the construction industry and is very experienced in the placement of risks within this sector. Our long-standing relationships with both Lloyd’s and company insurers allow us to support large capacity requirements, plus we have the ability to design bespoke placements that ensure the unique needs of each insured are met. We provide a comprehensive solution to cover employers’ liability, public and products liability, contractors’ “all risks”, contractors’ plant and equipment, professional indemnity and commercial fleets, often written on unique and exclusive wordings.