Fire test reports ‘kept secret’, says manager who advised on combustible K15 product
The technical services manager at the makers of one of the insulation products used on the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower had not seen the test reports of the combustible product on which he was advising the industry, the inquiry has heard.
Andrew Pack, who worked as Kingspan’s global technical support manager, admitted yesterday that the fire test reports for the firm’s K15 insulation were “kept secret” by those who were undertaking the tests.
The evidence, which is now being heard remotely, came on the first day of hearings for nearly two months after the inquiry wrapped early for Christmas because of a covid positive among the inquiry team and the imposition of a third lockdown in England last month.
Pack, who now works as Kingspan’s global technical support manager based in the Middle East, has worked at the firm for nearly 30 years in a series of advisory roles responding to customer enquiries about the firm’s products, including K15. From 2010 onwards, he said he had no involvement in K15 enquiries as the focus of his role had moved away from the UK.
In his witness statement, he said that he had not seen any test reports of Kingspan’s products from 2005 onwards and was “never expected to understand the content of or to comment upon test reports”.
Asked by inquiry counsel Rachel Troup if he had ever read during the period from 2001 to 2010 any BS 8414 test report for a system which included K15, Pack replied: “No.”
He said that there was “a team that do fire testing, and those fire tests were very much kept within that small team. They were not something that were released out on a daily basis [sic].”
He added: “We didn’t know when we’d failed, we didn’t know when we passed, until it was disclosed to us. So it was very rare to see a test report.”
Troup then asked Pack if it was fair to say that the test reports were “almost kept secret” to which Pack replied: “Yes, correct.”
He added: “I believe that culture is still today, within many businesses. I mean, you’ll have to ask the question of the people who do these tests: why are the tests kept where they are?
“Throughout my career at Kingspan, when people do fire testing, it has been the case that those test reports have been kept within the people that do that testing.”
Despite claiming he had asked why the test reports were not shared, he admitted that he could not recall what the answer was.
The inquiry heard last year how Kingspan’s K15 product, which was never specified for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower but was found after the 2017 fire to be included in its cladding system, had been marketed using a test report of a chemically different product for nearly 15 years.
An older version of the product dubbed “old technology” K15 had passed a fire test in 2005 but the following year this version of the product had then been swapped with a newer version which was “quicker and more cost-effective to produce”.
When this “new technology” K15 was tested in 2007, it turned the test rig into a “raging inferno” and had to be extinguished by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) out of fears that it would endanger the testing laboratory.
Despite the failed test, Kingspan continued marketing “new technology” K15 as safe for use on buildings taller than 18m on the basis of the 2005 test and only withdrew the test report in October last year, writing in a letter to the BRE that it was “now of the view that there are sufficient differences” between what had been tested and what was being sold.
The inquiry was also shown newly disclosed emails yesterday relating to a certificate that Kingspan had obtained from the Local Authority Building Control (LABC), a body representing building control inspectors at local councils which also issued certificates to product manufacturers for other inspectors to rely on.
The certificate stated that K15 could be considered as a “material of limited combustibility,” the minimum standard in official guidance needed for an insulation product to be considered safe to use on high rise buildings.
Pack told the inquiry how he was asked by the Kingspan’s then-technical manager Philip Heath to obtain an LABC certificate for K15 in November 2008 after the firm had secured one for another of its products.
The inquiry heard that to discuss obtaining the certificate, Pack held meetings with David Jones, an inspector at Herefordshire council who had not been trained in how the rules applied to high rise buildings as there were no buildings of this type in the county.
When Jones sent over a draft certificate in March 2009, Heath wrote: “Make no mistake, this document could be GOLD… Please progress this ASAP to the next stage… Peddle to the floor.”
When a final draft of the certificate was sent to Kingspan in May which stated that K15 could be considered a material of “limited combustibility,” Heath reacted by writing: ““FANBLOODYTASTIC.”
But K15, which was composed of a combustible plastic foam, could never have obtained this standard.
Last year, the inquiry was shown emails from the National House Building Council which called the LABC certificate “garbage” adding: “Hereford LABC didn’t know what they were talking about.”
A spokesperson for Kingspan in December said: “Kingspan condemns unreservedly any actions that do not demonstrate a proper commitment to fire safety.”
The inquiry into the fire which killed 72 people continues.