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Grenfell Tower Inquiry diary week 28: ‘This is a serious safety matter’

This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry zeroed in on the British Board of Agrément, the body that produced “misleading” certificates which inspired trust in both the cladding and insulation used on the tower. Lucie Heath reports

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This week the #GrenfellInquiry focused on the British Board of Agrément, which certificated the cladding and insulation used on the Grenfell Tower #UKhousing

All of the witnesses during this week of the inquiry were employees or former employees of the British Board of Agrément (BBA), the UK construction sector’s most trusted certifying body.

The BBA published certificates for the Reynobond 55 cladding and the Kooltherm K15 insulation product that were used on the Grenfell Tower. We know from previous weeks’ evidence that the cladding certificate was sent to individuals working on the tower’s refurbishment and that contractors and building control officers have said they trusted the products due to their BBA certificates.

In previous evidence it has been claimed that these certificates may have included mistakes or did not accurately represent the testing that had been carried out on each product. This week we learned how they ended up being published.

The cladding certificate

The cladding certificate

The BBA began the process of producing a certificate for Arconic’s Reynobond 55 cladding in 2006. This process was largely explored by the inquiry last week when we learned that the BBA agreed to include wording that the panels “may be regarded” as having a ‘Class 0’ surface, meaning they could be used on high-rise buildings.

This was despite the BBA receiving no test data from Arconic that proved the product had achieved a Class 0 rating. In fact, Arconic had tests dating back to 2005 which showed the panels would perform “disastrously” in cassette form, which involved bending the panels and hanging them onto rails. While rivetted panels, the other form of the cladding that was attached by being bolted into the wall using rivets, performed better in fire tests, Arconic still had fire test data that showed the cladding achieved a worse fire rating than that shown on the BBA’s certificate.

It was the BBA’s policy that all of its certificates would be reviewed every three years. This week the inquiry kicked off with Valentina Amoroso (pictured above), former project manager at the BBA, who carried out two reviews of the Reynobond certificate in 2014/15 and 2016/17.

On Monday the inquiry heard that Arconic ignored Ms Amoroso’s request for the information that she needed for her first review, including “details that would invalidate the certificate”, for 16 months. Instead of suspending Arconic’s certificate, Ms Amoroso was instructed to carry out the review with any publicly available information she could find.

As a result the BBA published a new certificate in 2015 that reasserted the claim that Reynobond 55 “may be regarded” as Class 0 (a British standard), partly on the basis of testing that showed the cladding achieving a European ‘B’ grade when fixed to the wall with rivets. At this point the BBA was not aware that Arconic’s testing had shown its panels obtaining a European C grade for its riveted version and an E grade when bent into cassettes.

When Ms Amoroso conducted her second review of the certificate in 2016, she learned from Arconic that the firm did not manufacture the Reynobond 55 cassettes, meaning the BBA’s certificate should never have covered that form of the cladding.

Ms Amoroso recommended in 2016 that the certificate be updated to clarify that it did not cover the cassette form of the product – the type used on Grenfell Tower. However this new certificate was not published until August 2017, after the fire at Grenfell.

“Did you suspect that Arconic had realised the BBA certificate covered something and covered fire claims for that thing for which he [an Arconic employee] was now disclaiming responsibility?” asked counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC.

“Yes,” replied Ms Amoroso.

“Did that not disturb you?” continued Mr Millett.

“Yes, that is why I suggested that it should not be part of the certificate,” said Ms Amoroso.

The Class 0 debate

The Class 0 debate

As part of her second review Ms Amoroso also suggested that “height and boundary restrictions” be applied to the Reynobond 55 certificate. Her explanation for why she recommended this provided intriguing insight into the BBA’s thinking around the debate over Class 0 and the UK government’s building regulations.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the government said that its official guidance, Approved Document B, required cladding panels to be of ‘limited combustibility’, meaning the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding should not have been placed on the tower in the first place. However, many industry figures disagree with this view from the government and argued that the standard the guidance set was Class 0 or Euroclass B.

The reason for this is that the government’s guidance set Class 0 as the standard for ‘external surfaces’ but stated that “insulation product, filler material etc” must be of limited combustibility. Shortly after the fire, the government wrote to social landlords telling them that the word ‘filler’ covered the plastic between the aluminium sheets in the cladding on Grenfell Tower.

After this letter was sent the BBA published a new certificate for Reynobond which stated that “the products are not classified as being ‘non-combustible’ or of ‘limited combustibility’… and so their use is restricted to 18m” unless a fire test is conducted “for the specific wall construction under consideration”.

However, the inquiry saw evidence showing that this change was already being planned for the Reynobond certificate as a result of Ms Amoroso’s review before the fire.

Ms Amoroso told the inquiry that around the time of her second review in 2016, the BBA had started requiring cladding products to demonstrate they had achieved an European A1 or A2 rating. If this was not provided, the product would be given a height restriction unless the entire system being used was tested.

When asked to explain this policy, Ms Amoroso said “a few of us, including myself, were of the opinion that the testing to BS 476 [the British Class 0 test] were not, could not, be deemed equivalent to the 13501 [European test] because they were not addressing the combustibility aspect of the material but were only assessing the superficial spread of flame”.

Ms Amoroso said Approved Document B was “ambiguous” as it “was allowing the use of Class 0 materials as well as Class B, where the two tests were not strictly equivalent”.

“I know that the industry had tried to make the government aware of these issues as it was raised in some of the conferences that I attended. I know that [the Building Research Establishment (BRE)] had tried to reach out to the government, but without much luck,” she said.

“Are you saying that it was a matter of BBA policy to add a height restriction in the absence of A1/A2, but not technically required by [Approved Document B]?” Mr Millett (pictured above) asked.

“Yes,” Ms Amoroso replied.

She told the inquiry that the BBA started applying height restrictions to cladding materials that did not achieve an A1 or A2 rating as and when the certificate came up for review. However, after the fire at Grenfell, the BBA accelerated this process and added height restrictions to all ACM cladding certificates.

After the fire

After the fire

On Tuesday Brian Moore (pictured above), former deputy chief executive of the BBA, began giving evidence to the inquiry and provided more insight into the BBA’s actions after the fire at Grenfell Tower.

On 20 June 2017, six days after the fire, Mr Moore provided an update to the BBA’s board in which he said the organisation was “in a reasonable position” when it came to its Reynobond certificate, even though at this point it had not published the certificate stating that the product must not be used on buildings taller than 18m.

“We would be in a stronger position if it stated in terms ‘not to be used above 18m’ but, as the note makes clear, the certificate holder/user must comply with building regs,” he wrote.

However, as we know, the BBA still has not discovered at this point that its Reynobond certificate stated the product was Class 0 despite Arconic’s fire test data proving otherwise. On 3 July the BBA sent a letter to all housing associations and local authorities telling them that the product “was deemed to achieve a Class 0 rating”.

The BBA did not learn about the tests carried out by Arconic until it was approached by BBC journalist Tom Symonds in February 2018. Mr Symonds emailed the BBA evidence of the Arconic tests that showed Reynobond 55 achieving poorer fire ratings in both its cassette and riveted form. These tests were conducted on the polyethylene (PE) version of the cladding, which achieved a poorer fire performance than the alternative fire-resistant (FR) version of the product.

Following the discussions with Mr Symonds, Mr Moore sent several emails to Arconic in an attempt to ascertain more details about the testing it had carried out. Around this time Arconic discontinued the sale of Reynobond PE for high-rise buildings, however the BBA still certificated the FR version of the cladding.

“Although Reynobond PE is no longer certificated, other products are and we need to understand whether we have included the most accurate available information in them to ensure that our certificates do not mislead any user,” Mr Moore said to Arconic in one email.

The inquiry heard that Mr Moore was eventually sent a “bundle” of test reports about the FR version of the product, but received nothing about the PE version.

Mr Moore told the inquiry that he had “suspicions that we had not been given the correct or full picture”. Despite this, the BBA did not decide to suspend and withdraw its certificate for the FR version until November 2018 when it saw a report from inquiry expert Dr Barbara Lane which “showed that she had other material that we hadn’t seen”. This was eight months after the BBA was first approached by the BBC.

“Do you accept that in acting only to suspend the certificate after 2 November 2018, the BBA acted in a way that was supine and leaden-footed?” Mr Millett asked.

Mr Moore said he did not think that was “a fair description” and argued that the reports he received from the BBC did not show “provenance” to Arconic or CSTB, the French organisation that had carried out the tests.

The insulation certificate

The insulation certificate

The inquiry also explored the certificate the BBA issued for Kingspan’s Kooltherm K15 insulation found on parts of Grenfell Tower.

In 2008 the BBA issued a certificate that said K15 could be considered as Class 0. While Class 0 was not a standard relevant for the use of insulation on a high-rise building, there was confusion in the industry at the time around the applicable standards and Kingspan used the term in its marketing literature.

Mr Moore told the inquiry that the BBA has not been able to find any evidence in its records that it received test data from Kingspan which confirmed that it had achieved a Class 0 rating. In fact the inquiry previously heard that Kingspan carried out a test of a system containing K15 insulation in December 2007, which showed the product “burnt very ferociously”.

Instead the BBA’s K15 file folders contained a number of reports relating to the fire performance of different Kingspan products, dating as far back as 1991.

Mr Moore, who did not join the BBA until 2008, said: “I understood that it wasn’t common, but it was not unusual if there were products of a very similar kind to each other and if the performance was judged to be so similar to one that we had already assessed, it was not unusual for the BBA to extrapolate this opinion from one product to a similar one.”

In 2010 the BBA produced an amended version of its K15 certificate with a number of changes, including a new reference to paragraph 12.7 of Approved Document B, which stated that insulation could be used on a high-rise building if it was of “limited combustibility”.

This reference was included in the BBA’s certificate despite the product being combustible and therefore not suitable for use on high-rise buildings unless part of a system that had passed a large-scale test.

Chris Hunt (pictured above), who was head of approvals at the BBA at the time, said he did not believe it was the BBA’s intention to indicate that K15 could be used on buildings taller than 18m, but agreed that “there is the risk that it could be read that way”.

In fact the BBA was approached by a government official Brian Martin about this exact matter in 2014.

“It has come to my attention that BBA cert 08452 2008 included advice that the product in question satisfied paragraph 12.7 of volume 2 of Approved Document B. Para 12.7 provides that insulation materials used in external walls should be of limited combustibility. It would appear, however, that the product in question is not a material of limited combustibility,” the email said.

At this point the BBA had already published a new certificate for K15 that removed the reference to paragraph 12.7, but Mr Martin called the issue “a serious safety matter” and asked the BBA to “investigate and advise me of the outcome of your investigation as soon as possible”.

In a response, BBA employee John Albon said the mistake was “caused by human error” and was “an unfortunate and rare oversight that would not escape the internal checks and measures that BBA currently operate”.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry will continue hearing from the BBA next week.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry: week 28 headlines

BBA published ‘materially wrong’ certificate on Grenfell cladding after manufacturer ‘stonewalled’ data requests

The BBA published a “materially wrong” certificate covering the cladding material later used on Grenfell Tower, after its manufacturer “stonewalled” requests for information for 16 months.

BBA based an ‘inaccurate’ certificate of Kingspan insulation on tests to other products

The BBA published an “inaccurate and misleading” certificate covering the Kooltherm K15 insulation that was found on parts of Grenfell Tower by “extrapolating” information from other products rather than obtaining original test data.

BBA accused of being ‘supine and leaden-footed’ after delaying to withdraw cladding certificate after fire

The former deputy chief executive of the company that certified the cladding used on Grenfell Tower has denied acting in a “supine and leaden-footed” way in delaying to withdraw the cladding’s certificate after the fire.

Government warned BBA about ‘serious safety matter’ regarding ‘misleading’ Kingspan certificate

A government official wrote to the BBA in 2014 warning it of an error contained in its certificate for the insulation used on Grenfell Tower, describing the issue as “a serious safety matter”.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Module one

Week one: A vivid picture of a broken industry

After a week of damning revelations at the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Peter Apps recaps the key points

Click here to read the full story

Week two: What is the significance of the immunity application?

Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to the attorney general requesting protection for those set to give evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Peter Apps explains what the move means

Click here to read the full story

Week three: Architects of misfortune

This week saw the lead architects for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment give evidence to the inquiry. Peter Apps runs through the key points

Click here to read the full story

Week four: ‘I didn’t have any perception that it was the monster it’s become’

The architects continued to give evidence this week, outlining a lack of understanding of the fire risk posed by the cladding materials and its design. Nathaniel Barker reports

Click here to read the full story

Week five: ‘No adverse effect in relation to external fire spread’

As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry returns from its long absence, Peter Apps recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the fire consultants to the refurbishment

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Week six: ‘I can’t recall any instance where I discussed the materials with building control’

Nathaniel Barker summarises what we learned from fire engineers Exova, architects Studio E and the early evidence from contractor Rydon

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Week seven: ‘I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’

Two key witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Peter Apps recaps some of the key points from a revealing week of evidence

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Week eight: ‘It haunts me that it wasn't challenged’

Four witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Lucie Heath recaps what we learned on the last week of evidence before the inquiry breaks for five weeks

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Week nine: ‘All I can say is you will be taken out for a very nice meal very soon’

This week the inquiry heard evidence from witnesses at Harley Facades, the sub-contractor responsible for Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Peter Apps recaps the key points

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Week 10: ‘As we all know, ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!’

As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry entered its 10th week, Jack Simpson recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the refurbishment’s cladding contractor

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Week 11: ‘Did you get the impression Grenfell Tower was a guinea pig for this insulation?’

With witnesses from the cladding subcontractor, the firm which cut the deadly panels to shape and the clerk of works which inspected the job giving evidence this was week full of revelations. Peter Apps recaps the key points

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Week 12: ‘Would you accept that was a serious failing on your part?’

With the surveyor who inspected Grenfell Tower for compliance giving evidence, this was a crucial week from the inquiry. Dominic Brady and Peter Apps report

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Week 13: ‘Value for money is to be regarded as the key driver for this project’

With consultants to Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) giving evidence, attention at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry turned for this first time to the actions of the TMO and the council. Peter Apps reports

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Week 14: ‘Did it not occur to you at this point that your budget was simply too low?’

This week, for the first time in phase two, the inquiry heard from Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the landlord that oversaw the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Lucie Heath reports

Click here to read the full story

Week 15: ‘Have you ever informed the police that you destroyed documents relevant to their investigation?’

Witnesses from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) gave evidence for a second week, which began with a shocking revelation about withheld and destroyed evidence. Peter Apps recaps

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Week 16: ‘I conclude this was very serious evidence of professional negligence’

This week saw members of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation finish giving evidence, before the inquiry’s expert witnesses took the stand to make some highly critical assessments of the work they had seen before and during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Jack Simpson recaps

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Grenfell Tower: a timeline of the refurbishment

Following the conclusion of module one of the Grenfell Inquiry’s second phase, Peter Apps presents a timeline of the key moments during the fatal refurbishment of the west London tower block

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Module two

Week 17: ‘It’s hard to make a note about this because we are not clean’

The start of the second module of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two came with some huge revelations about the companies that sold the products used in the cladding system. Peter Apps reports

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Week 18: ‘It was just reckless optimism wasn't it?’

As the inquiry began cross-examining witnesses for the second module of its phase two work, the picture surrounding just how Grenfell Tower ended up wrapped in such dangerous materials became a little clearer. Nathaniel Barker was keeping an eye on proceedings

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Week 19: ‘And that was intentional, deliberate, dishonest?’

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week heard the shocking story of how the insulation manufacturer “manipulated” official testing and marketed its product “dishonestly”. Peter Apps tells the story

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Week 20: ‘We were outed by a consultant who we then had to fabricate a story to’

This week the inquiry investigated the actions of Kingspan – the manufacturer of one of the insulation products used in the tower’s cladding system. Dominic Brady reports

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Week 21: ‘It’s there in black and white isn't it? We see a complete absence of any consideration of life safety’

The story of insulation giant Kingspan’s testing and marketing of its combustible insulation for high rises was unpacked in minute detail this week. Peter Apps reports

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Week 22: ‘All we do is lie in here’

In the third week of evidence from insulation giant Kingspan, the inquiry continued to uncover shocking details about the firm’s behaviour both before and after the Grenfell Tower fire. Lucie Heath reports

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Week 23: ‘That would have come as an earthquake to you at the time, would it not?’

This week the inquiry took its deepest dive yet into the inner workings of the cladding manufacturer whose product has been blamed for the terrible spread of fire up Grenfell Tower. Nathaniel Barker reports

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Week 24: ‘Do you accept that Test 5B was Arconic's deadly secret’

The president of the firm that made and sold the cladding panels installed on Grenfell Tower was asked to account for the apparent concealment of “disastrous” fire tests on the product this week. Peter Apps reports

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Week 25: ‘This is quite an incredible list of omissions and missed instances, isn’t it?’

This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard its first witnesses from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) - the testing house which carried out key fire tests on the Kingspan and Celotex insulation products which were later used on Grenfell Tower. Peter Apps reports.

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Week 26: 'You were taking an enormous risk, weren't you?'

Week 26 at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was a key moment in understanding how dangerous products used on the tower came to be accepted by industry professionals. Dominic Brady reports

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Week 27: ‘What will happen if one building made out [of] PE core is in fire and will kill 60 to 70 persons?’

The most explosive week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry came not from those who did not attend, as the evidence which would have been presented to Arconic witnesses was displayed in their absence. Peter Apps reports

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Week 28: ‘This is a serious safety matter’

This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry zeroed in on the British Board of Agrément, the body that produced “misleading” certificates which inspired trust in both the cladding and insulation used on the tower. Lucie Heath reports

Click here to read the full story

Week 29: ‘Is it true that Kingspan’s position… was to do its best to ensure that science was secretly perverted for financial gain?’

The final week in this section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry primarily examined the attempts by insulation manufacturer Kingspan to lobby government after the fire. Peter Apps reports

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How the products used in Grenfell Tower's cladding system were tested and sold

As the section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry examining how the products used in the cladding system were tested, marketed and sold comes to a close, Peter Apps summarises what we have learned about each of the products included in the system.

Click here to read the full story

Module Three

Week 30: ‘There is certainly a high probability that in the event of a fire the whole building can become an inferno’

The focus of the inquiry shifted this week to the actions of the social housing providers responsible for maintaining Grenfell Tower. Pete Apps recaps what we learned.

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