ABI demands revision of full-scale mock-ups, which it says fail to replicate real world conditions adequately

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Source: Sam Frost / Fire Protection Association

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has described the full-scale tests used to demonstrate that cladding systems meet fire regulations as “utterly inadequate” and is calling for them to be revised.

It commissioned a series of experiments by the Fire Protection Association (FPA) to show that the full-scale mock-ups used for the tests do not represent real world conditions, especially where combustible materials are involved. 

The ABI is also calling for all combustible materials used in external cladding systems to be banned.

The insurers’ body said that if the insurance industry felt that not enough was being done to address its concerns the availability and cost of insurance cover “could change”.

ABI director-general Huw Evans said: “It is a matter of urgency that we create the right testing regime that properly replicates real world conditions and keeps pace with building innovation and modern design.”

And Fire Protection Association managing director Jonathan O’Neill said the British Standards Institute (BSI) needs to go back to the drawing board: “The current cladding test standard requires urgent review to ensure that systems that pass are reflective of the systems that are installed and of the risks to which they are exposed.

“We urge BSI to urgently reconvene the group responsible for this standard to consider the results of this research and make changes to the standard as required.”

Concerns centre on the BS 8414 fire test, used to show a mock-up of a cladding system can meet the fire performance requirements of Part B of the Building Regulations for buildings over 18m tall.

The government commissioned tests to BS 8414 after the Grenfell Tower fire to establish the type of aluminium composite material cladding used on the tower would not meet building regulations. Cladding systems featuring combustible insulation passed the tests where these featured non-flammable external panels.

The FPA tests showed that cladding system mock-ups with features found on real buildings  produced different test results from the BS 8414 test.

BS 8414 tests use sealed-edge panels but those on real buildings include gaps and cover greater areas. The FPA tests showed mock-ups with ventilation gaps burned much more rapidly – and that fires spread more quickly inside cladding systems that include penetrations for pipes and vents, which BS 8414 does not use.