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Barking fire: risk assessment identified ‘significant risk’ from wooden cladding months before fire

The fire risk assessment of the block of flats in Barking devastated by a huge fire last week identified the wooden balcony cladding as a “significant hazard” that “put residents at risk”, Inside Housing can reveal.

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Picture: Nathaniel Barker
Picture: Nathaniel Barker
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Barking fire: Block manager was warned about ‘significant’ cladding hazard months before the fire #ukhousing

Inside Housing has obtained a copy of the assessment, carried out in January on the Samuel Garside block where dozens of apartments were badly damaged by fire on 9 June.

The assessment said external cladding, wooden joists and deck balconies were a “significant hazard” that could put residents at risk of smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

The assessment, carried out for building manager RMG by assessor Osterna, said: “It is assessed that the wooden decks and joists are over 90mm thick and should have been formed of or treated with fire resistant materials but this could not be confirmed during the assessment.

“If a balcony does catch fire it should be noted that this will accelerate fire spread through either setting the balcony above alight or through entering the flats through open windows and this will put residents and visitors at risk of smoke inhalation and burn injuries.”

The fire damaged 47 flats, including eight flats that will take six months to make habitable. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation.


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Osterna recommended that a responsible person check whether cladding materials had been treated.

It also called for the building’s manager to warn residents not to have BBQs on the balconies.

The BBC reported last week that a barbecue “may have been the cause of the fire”. However, an investigation is yet to confirm this.

Last week, Ian Gorst, regional chair for London and South East at the building’s developer Bellway, confirmed at a meeting with residents that the wood used on the block had not been treated and was not fire retardant.

The cladding on the balconies used on the block was ThermoWood, which has a Class D fire rating if not treated to make it more resistant to flame.

Government guidance requires the higher Class B for the external surfaces of walls on buildings above 18m and limited combustibility, but sets no standard for buildings below this height. The Samuel Garside block is understood to be below 18m.

A source close to Bellway said that the company had not received the report before the fire.

Bellway completed the Samuel Garside block and adjoining blocks in 2014. It sold the freehold of the block to property company Adriatic Land, which is ultimately responsible for the fire safety of the building. HomeGround, an Adriatic Land company, is the manager of the block but has contracted RMG for the day-to-day management. RMG is a subsidiary of Places for People.

The assessment also raised concerns about fire safety in other parts of the building, including issues with the compartmentation of the block and the fire alarms used.

It said it found “gaps and holes” in the service cupboards where pipes and cables have been routed, which could allow fire and smoke to spread internally through the building and block escape routes. This, it added, would put residents and visitors at risk of smoke inhalation and burn injuries.

The report did note that remedial work to fix the fire stopping was in progress.

It added that a fully automatic fire alarm had been fitted within the common parts of the building, which was at odds with a block purpose-built to building regulation standards designed with a high degree of fire compartmentation.

A screengrab from the risk assessment
A screengrab from the risk assessment

 

It also reported that there were no records of fire alarm tests, emergency escape lighting tests, or maintenance and testing of other fire protection systems. A RMG and HomeGround spokesperson said that there were records for all fire safety measures, but these are not held on site and would not necessarily have been reviewed as part of the process

The overall risk of the block was “medium”, meaning it had normal hazards subject to appropriate controls for the type of occupancy.

The building was given a “tolerable” risk rating, meaning no major additional work was required but there might be some improvements needed.

Last week, residents claimed that the fire alarm for the block had been on silent at the time of the fire and had to pull open some of the building’s magnetic doors.

Inside Housing has also seen a fire risk assessment from Samuel Garside’s adjoining block, Ernest Websdale House, which also includes concerns over the cladding, compartmentation and fire alarms.

In response, a spokesperson for RMG and HomeGround said: "RMG, as the managing agent for Samuel Garside House, commissioned a fire risk assessment for the building in January 2019. All of the actions identified by the risk assessor were followed up and tracked for compliance purposes.

"At the time the risk assessment was carried out, remedial works to address certain issues were already being undertaken in the building by Bellway.”

Bellway declined to comment while an investigation into the fire is ongoing.

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