Barking fire: Industry agrees that lack of flame-retardant timber treatment was “inappropriate”

Published:  12 June, 2019

Following a recent serious fire in a block of flats in Barking, timber industry associations say there was a failure to properly fire-proof the timber cladding.

The Timber Trade Federation and Wood Protection Association said that the absence of an industrial fire retardant pre-treatment for the timber balconies and cladding across the front of the building was completely inappropriate in the circumstances, and pointed to an incomplete fire risk assessment.

The six-storey building in De Pass Gardens was set alight by an unknown cause on 9 June, with ten flats destroyed and 20 more damaged. The flats featured timber balconies, balcony dividers and extensive balustrading.

According to the trade associations’ representatives, the lack of a flame retardant treatment combined with multiple small cross sections of timber with plenty of air movement around each panel, created an unnecessary fire risk.

TTF and WPA collectively agree that treatment was essential in this situation, even though it would appear that this was not required by Building Regulations and the project was subsequently approved by Building Control. They add that if pre-treatment had been carried out in this case, the timber decking and cladding would have performed very differently.

TTF Managing Director Dave Hopkins said: “If a comprehensive fire risk assessment had been conducted on this design it would have been clear that additional protection was required in these particular circumstances.”

It has emerged that the timber supplied for the project had a ‘Euro class D, s2, d0’ reaction to fire rating. Flame retardant pre-treatments are readily available which could have upgraded the timber components to the more appropriate, much higher Class B rating.

If that had been done, the timber decking and cladding would have performed very differently. Such industrial flame-retardant processes are subject to independent quality assurance under a well-respected scheme operated by the WPA.

Gordon Ewbank, WPA Chief Executive, said: “The privatisation of Building Control services in the UK does not help in these situations.

“Building Control service providers are nervous about specifying standards higher than strictly required by Building Regulations (even if appropriate as was the case at Barking), in case the contractor switches to another service provider who will approve the design at the lower standard and cost.

“Indeed, this point was also highlighted in the Hackitt review in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy.”

Photo: Mihaela Gheorghe.

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