To Ask The Correct Question About Building Cladding Like Grenfell

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1044

That Grenfell Tower went up in flames was appalling, that so many lost their lives a tragedy. It was, of course, all about the cladding used on the outside of that building.

It would appear that the problem is more widespread. Not just that the specific type of cladding is used elsewhere, but that other types of cladding are equally or near as dangerous:

Cladding material used on thousands of tall buildings in the UK has dramatically failed a safety test, a study has found.

In a fire test, the material, previously deemed safer than that used on Grenfell Tower, burned almost as rapidly as the aluminium and plastic panels blamed for the disaster.

The test will heap pressure on building owners to continue to remove the high pressure laminate (HPL) panels, which are common in the UK.

The government recently agreed to fund their removal but it was deemed less urgent than the removal of the aluminium and plastic type, known as ACM.

OK. Well, take the report as it is, it is only one report after all. But now to the important question here.

Who approved this cladding for use?

Well, there’s a government system which tells everyone which sorts of building materials they can use where and to do what. There’s a system of building inspectors that at least tries to make sure said rules are complied with.

Who runs this system? Government.

So, our faith on government to do stuff is reinforced, or has taken a bit of a knock? And we should carry that attitude over to other things that government proposes to do, right? They’re going to get gender equality, climate change, the Green New Deal, nationalisation of the railways and all just perfectly ticketty boo?

You know, they are competent to take on ever more of our lives given that their attempts to make a building fireproof included cladding the thing in an accelerant?

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Londoner
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Londoner

Yeah, well, would have helped if the (non government) contractors had abided by the (non government) manufacturer’s instructions, as well:
‘Manufacturers, Arconic, clearly state in its brochure that the plastic cladding should not be used on a building over 10 metres (32 feet) high.

But in a move that has been blasted for possibly causing the deaths of countless people, including 58 missing, contractors installed them on 24 floors of the block – which is 67 metres tall (220 feet).
You can’t trust anybody, can you?

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

They just did it did they? And nobody in government checked? And was the reason not to install it in tall buildings specifically a fire hazard?

Building regulations are made and enforced by government, presumably because otherwise people would do bad/wrong things. Saying that somebody did a bad/wrong thing is entirely why we have regulations.

Londoner
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Londoner

Quite so, but Tim’s argument is that government is not competent to make or enforce said regulations. Presumably he’d prefer industry self regulation? Which has never worked in consumers’ favour.

David Morris
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David Morris

Except it’s never in the best interests of a company in the private sector to kill its customers.

Londoner
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Londoner

Let me introduce you to a few cigarette manufacturers. It doesn’t matter so long as you don’t get found out and can carry on shifting product.
And of course government regulation is not just about protecting the customers, in this case the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s housing arm, but the innocent bystanders, the tenants, as well.

Spike
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Spike

Apart from the fact that cigarettes almost always do not kill the customer, the manufacturing of cigarettes is not a proof of your bias that industry’s interest is at odds with the consumer’s interest. Some consumers’ trade-off between pleasure and safety is not the same as yours. They deserve liberty, on their own account (which, sadly, is always arguable once you socialize medicine). Now meanwhile, you are ignoring the throbbing reality that modern government regulation DID NOT PROTECT these tenants.

Londoner
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Londoner

Wrong. The architect of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has admitted he did not read building regulations aimed at preventing cladding fires and had no idea that panels used to insulate buildings could be combustible.

John B
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John B

The cladding was there to reduce CO2 emissions. They died to save the Planet… which is all that letters these days.

Jim
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Jim

The Grenfell disaster was the logical conclusion of the ‘If its alright on paper its alright full stop’ philosophy that has infested everything in the West nowadays. Mainly because actually making good judgements about people and stuff is hard, and failures have nasty consequences. Far better and easier to just check pieces of paper and if they’re in order, then everything’s fine! Thus you have filthy hospitals that on paper have been entirely cleaned from top to bottom, you have insulation panels that on paper are completely safe, but aren’t, and you forbid experienced people from operating machinery they know… Read more »

John B
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John B

Quite so. The obsession with obtaining ISO 9000 standards. As someone remarked, same old crap but beautifully documented. The EU horse-meat scandal occurred because of sole reliance on a paper trail along the chain of supply.

Londoner
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Londoner

My heart bleeds, so tough on those experienced people who can’t be arsed to sit the exam (or whatever) and get the licence. Getting that certificate involves someone, somewhere, making a value judgement that something has been achieved to a minimum standard. Expect you’d prefer your dentist to have a few bits of paper to show.

jgh
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jgh

I did the C&G Electrician’s course decades ago because I got fed up of people saying “ooh, we can’t let you do that!!!” when computing-related activities required using my 20 years’ experience of electrical matters to do things like change a plug or add some sockets.
The only thing I learned on the course was how to bend conduit. 🙂

Jim
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Jim

“My heart bleeds, so tough on those experienced people who can’t be arsed to sit the exam (or whatever) and get the licence. ”

Or have the money to pay…….I’m a farmer, I have 40 years practical experience on all manner of machinery. Could I ever use that experience in paid employment? Of course not I’d have to pay thousands to a company who would ‘train’ me, by the means of me attending a course that is run by someone who knows less about using the machine in question than I do. But hey, he’s the ‘expert’!

dodgy geezer
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dodgy geezer

Oddly, in my rather specialist particular field, I AM one of the experts. That expertise runs to having written published papers on the topic, specified syllabuses and taught university students at Masters level, worked on the development of international standards and developed training courses for formal qualifications and certifications. Followed by 20 years consulting in the field. However, I have no formal qualification myself in my specialism. It did not exist until I and several colleagues developed the concept, so such qualifications did not exist until we developed them. And I am unwilling to pay good money to sit in… Read more »

John B
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John B

That so many lost their lives is entirely due to the fact they failed to evacuate the building… on the advice of an agency of the Government. The same agency having failed entirely to extinguish the initial fire.

Londoner
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Londoner

So let’s make a bonfire of the regulations, abolish fire brigades?

Mohave Greenie
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Mohave Greenie

No, we just need fire brigades like in Farhenheit 451; but just for government regulations.

Londoner
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Londoner

You don’t even need to do that when your incompetent, negligent private sector doesn’t actually read them.

Spike
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Spike

FYI, effective today, Arconic has separated all its assets that anyone would want to own into a firm called Howmet Aerospace Inc. The cladding business and the open-ended liability were spun off into a company to be known as Arconic.

Londoner
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Londoner

Which they announced over a year ago, at which time there was a fed securities law violation suit out against them, dismissed June 2019. Actually, no one here has addressed Tim’s original point, which is that building regs outlawed the ACM panels used at Grenfell, but not High Pressure Laminate (HPL) ones, also widely used in UK construction, subsequently shown on testing to be equally dangerous. So yes, with hindsight, the regulations were defective in not forbidding those too; but that’s not a reason to bin all regulation, as Tim and others here seem to have concluded. More a good… Read more »

Spike
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Spike

Sigh! Any defect in regulation (and regulators) is proof we need more of the same….With enough public employment, we can be sure of always having a work-around in place for the previous deadly error.

Londoner
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Londoner

Absolutely right. Those who cannot remember their past are doomed to repeat it (Santayana).

gareth
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gareth

Tim, if you are interested, check back in Richard North’s blog after the time of the fire. He has some useful chapter and verse on how the EU regulatory system set up the circumstances that made the fire possible (which wouldn’t have happened under the good ‘ole British way of doing things).

PS: the “cladding” is not the problem per se, it is the underlying PIR insulation and the air gap chimney beneath the cladding. It’s just that the folks in the meeja don’t have the mental capacity to understand engineering stuff so latch on to terms like “cladding”…