Kingspan “interpreted” the building guidance in order to make a “misleading” claim about an insulation product’s fire safety in a way described by one employee as “a bit of a cheat”, the Grenfell Inquiry heard today.
Adrian Pargeter, director of technical, marketing and internal affairs at Kingspan, confirmed to the inquiry that Kingspan promoted the Kooltherm K15 product used on parts of the Grenfell Tower as having a Class 0 fire rating, despite only the foil facer of the product achieving Class 0 under testing.
While Class 0 is not a relevant standard for the use of insulation on high rises, it was prominently flagged in marketing of the product and some in the industry took it to mean the product was safe.
The decision to promote K15 as Class 0 was made due to wording in Approved Document B of the building regulations of England and Wales, which said a product could be referred to as Class 0 if “the surface of a composite product” achieved a certain performance under testing.
The inquiry was shown a chain of messages from 2016 in which members of Kingspan’s marketing and technical team debated whether they should continue promoting K15 as having achieved Class 0 despite having only tested the foil facer.
During the conversation, Arron Chalmers, technical project leader at Kingspan, said he had received advice from a fire engineer telling him “we should test the complete product before we can claim anything as the foam behind the foil is likely to have a bearing on the facing performance”.
However, another technical project leader, Dan Ball, said he had spoken to the same fire engineer who said “we are okay claiming class 0 from foil as it can be interpreted like that. Hes [sic] just got to take the fire engineer perspective and cover himself”.
Mr Chalmers replied: “Yeah, does seem a bit of a cheat though doesn’t it claiming Class 0 for just a facer test, when as you said its [sic] meant to be product as placed on the market.”
Later that year, Kingspan undertook testing of the entire K15 composite product, however this test failed to achieve Class 0.
Following this result, Mr Ball said in an email to Mr Pargeter that it would be “somewhat misleading” for Kingspan to continue “claiming class 0” for K15.
Despite this, the inquiry heard that Kingspan changed its marketing literature to define K15’s Class 0 status as “achieves Class 0 as defined in Approved Document B in England and Wales”.
However, the test forced Kingspan to drop the phrase “low risk” from its marketing in Scotland due to the different requirements of the building regulations there.
The inquiry was shown a series of text messages from later in 2016 sent between Mr Chalmers and another Kingspan employee referencing K15 in which Mr Chalmers said: “doesnt [sic] actually get class 0 when we test the whole product tho LOL!”
“WHAT we lied?” the other employee wrote.
“yeahhhh tested K15 as a whole – got class 1 [an inferior standard] wheyy lol,” responded Mr Chalmers.
In reference to the building regulations, Mr Chalmers wrote: “England/Wales is worded in such a way that it ‘implies’ the facing can give you class 0.
“Scotland is written better, therefore our product is not class 0 in scotland haha but don’t tell anyone that.”
Later in 2016, Kingspan received an inquiry from an architect in Scotland asking it to confirm that cavity barriers would only have to be installed every 20 metres on a project the architect was working on due to K15 having a Class 0 fire rating.
As a result of this query, Mr Chalmers wrote to Mr Pargeter explaining that through a “loophole” the firm was able to claim Class 0 on K15 in England and Wales, but was not able to say the product was “low risk” in Scotland.
Mr Chalmers said Kingspan could either “be honest” and inform the architect cavity barriers will be needed every 10 meters or “blag it” and “ignore her direct question”.
In response to this email, Mr Pargeter said the enquiry was a “tricky one” and asked if there was any other test method that could be used to confirm K15 met the Scottish building regulation’s requirement for “low risk”.
The inquiry has found no evidence that Kingspan informed the architect in Scotland that the insulation was classified as “medium risk” and Mr Pargeter said he didn’t recall the outcome.
“I’m bound to suggest to you, Mr Pargeter, that your approach to this issue is not only dishonest but displayed a reckless disregard for human life and safety,” said Richard Millett QC during cross-examination.
Mr Pargeter said he disagreed with the above statement.
Kingspan eventually started declaring within its K15 marketing literature that the product was “medium risk” in Scotland almost one year after receiving this enquiry.
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