EPIC responds to combustibles ban

EPIC responds to combustibles ban

ENGINEERED PANELS in Construction (EPIC) said that it supports the ‘call for reform’, but criticised the ban’s ‘unwelcome implications’.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire announced the ban at the Conservative Party conference, with the government stating later that following the Grenfell Tower fire, it had ‘established a comprehensive building safety programme’ and an independent review of building regulations and fire safety, and that earlier this year it ‘said it would it ban the use of combustible materials on external walls of high-rise buildings subject to consultation’.

After this consultation, it has now confirmed the ban will go forward and apply to all high rise buildings containing flats ‘as well as hospitals, residential care premises and student accommodation above 18 metres’. The ban will be delivered ‘through changes to building regulations and will limit materials available to products achieving a European classification of Class A1 or A2.

Reactions have come from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), and EPIC stated that ‘nobody in the industry would disagree with the aspiration to prevent another Grenfell and to drive a change in culture on building safety’, but added that ‘safety starts with an understanding that buildings behave as complicated systems, not just layers of products’.

It supported Mr Brokenshire’s ‘call for reform’, adding that the industry ‘should continually innovate to improve safety, to improve design and to improve sustainability’, with its member products ‘selected by designers, architects and builders because they meet those requirements – but they continue to innovate’.

The organisation’s members’ steel faced insulated building panels have a ‘long and proven track record’ for build speed, air tightness and thermal performance, energy saving and fire performance, withPIR thermal insulation cores said to have ‘consistently demonstrated their ability to maintain their structural integrity and contain the spread of fire – not only in large-scale laboratory tests, but in multiple real-life fires’.

For EPIC, ‘blanket-banning products has two unwelcome implications’, the first that ‘it risks complacency at the designer and installer level: the idea that if it is classed as “non-combustible”, nothing can go wrong’. The second is that ‘it stifles innovation at the manufacturer level because if you haven’t got a market, you have no incentive to improve’, and by extending the ban to all products categorised as combustible, it is ‘essentially precluding all modern building systems and dooming building designers to concrete, mineral wool and masonry’.

EPIC member panels are ‘widely used in industrial and commercial new-build and refurbishment projects’ as well as ‘hospitals, schools, prisons and shopping centres’, and it noted that they are a ‘natural answer’ to building needs including energy efficiency and low maintenance. It claims that Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘thorough’ investigation into building regulations and fire safety provided ‘well-informed conclusions’, and shares the view that the ‘way to really improve fire safety is to drive a change in culture’.

The review also shares EPIC’s hope down the line that ‘everyone in the chain is qualified to take legal responsibility for what they are designing, specifying, installing and maintaining’. The ban, it notes, is ‘just the first step to improvements in the industry which will only happen when government, manufacturers and installers all work together to understand these complex engineering problems.

‘EPIC is committed to working with the Government and stakeholders from the construction industry. It aims to help deliver a regulatory system that is fit for purpose in providing safe and sustainable buildings for people to live and work in’.

Chris Pateman, EPIC general secretary, stated: ‘EPIC members have been working with contractors to deliver more joined-up on-site practice for many years, and we welcome the Government’s commitment to hastening improvement. Members will continue to work closely with government to professionalise and ensure the Secretary of State’s announcement is understood by all within the industry.

‘The answer to complicated engineering questions about fire performance of materials in buildings is not to ban modern materials. The answer is to build the systems in large-scale test-rigs, expose them to significant fire loads in controlled conditions, and see how they perform. And then to ensure the people who are installing them on site are qualified, trained, accredited and responsible to deliver to specification.

‘Thinking you can prevent another Grenfell by banning the use of a broad class of materials is a bit like thinking you can prevent another M5 pile-up by banning HGVs. It’s poor-quality policy-making, and we wonder if the Secretary of State has really thought through its implications.’