Grenfell Tower: Earlier cladding fire test was ‘catastrophic failure’on February 15, 2022 at 9:05 pm

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Fire tests on cladding similar to Grenfell Tower’s resulted in 20m flames, an inquiry hears.

Grenfell Tower in 2019

Image source, Getty Images

A cladding system similar to the one used at Grenfell Tower spectacularly failed safety tests in 2001, the public inquiry into the disaster has heard.

Tests had resulted in a “very rapid, very large fire” and had to be stopped.

For the first time the Building Research Establishment (BRE) confirmed publicly the tests had resulted in 20m (65ft) flames.

The BBC revealed the existence of the tests last year. They had not been made public before.

Sarah Colwell from the BRE told the inquiry the results were passed to the government to “alert and identify” the problem.

The test of the aluminium cladding with a plastic layer took place in 2001 – 16 years before the Grenfell Tower fire.

If the results had been widely disseminated, it is possible the Grenfell cladding would not have been installed.

In the first report of the Grenfell Inquiry, the cladding was cited as the main cause of flames rapidly spreading up the building, leaving residents trapped.

Test observers ‘shocked’

The 2001 test involved a mock-up of a building on a 9m (30ft) test rig. This was the standard test of its type.

When engineers set light to the mock-up, flames spread rapidly, according to results from the test shown at the inquiry.

Within three minutes the maximum acceptable temperature levels were reached on the outside of the structure, and just over a minute later, internal limits were also reached.

After five minutes the flames had reached 20m (65ft) – twice the height of the rig – and the test was stopped.

Normally the rig would be allowed to burn for 30 minutes.

Giving evidence, Ms Colwell said: “It was very rapid, very large fire growth.”

She agreed the test was “catastrophic” and experts watching were “shocked”.

Despite the test, the aluminium cladding had the best national rating for fire spread – Class zero – a standard which has been discredited since the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Building Research Establishment passed the results of the 2001 tests to the government, which had commissioned its work.

Despite the obvious fire risks the aluminium cladding was not specifically banned, and continued to be used on buildings such as Grenfell right up to the fire in 2017 which resulted in the loss of 72 lives.

Cladding being removed from building in 2017

Image source, PA Media

Asked whether anyone warned the construction industry, Ms Colwell said: “I made the department aware of the outcomes. They were obviously in a position to take the dissemination route.”

A 2004 document summarising the results was leaked to the BBC last year. It had been circulated to an industry group marked “commercial, in confidence”.

Following the Grenfell fire, cladding companies claimed they had been horrified by how fast the flames spread, and that they had not been aware of the risks of aluminium and plastic cladding.

A document produced by the BRE in 2006 following the tests did not mention the 2001 test results.

Counsel to the inquiry asked Ms Colwell which brand of cladding was used in the tests. She said she did not know.

The product used at Grenfell was Reynobond PE55 made by the multinational firm Arconic.

Residents in more than 1,000 buildings in London still rely on 24-hour monitoring due to potentially unsafe building materials, the fire service has said.

Government officials and former ministers will be questioned about what they knew over the coming weeks.

Presentational grey line

Follow BBC London on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Send your story ideas to

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.
- Advertisement -




IMF warns of ‘darkening’ global economic outlookon July 13, 2022 at 11:04 pm

The International Monetary Fund hints it will downgrade its expectations for global economic growth.Image source, Getty ImagesThe head of the International Monetary Fund has...

The Ashes: England hold on for draw to deny Australia clean sweepon January 9, 2022 at 9:04 am

England cling on for a tense draw on the final day of the fourth Test in Sydney to end Australia's hopes of an Ashes...

UK economy grows in July but misses forecastson September 12, 2022 at 6:24 am

The Women's Euro Championship helped boost growth though expansion was weaker than expected.The Women's Euro Championship helped boost growth though expansion was weaker than...

Why picking a good company name is a tricky businesson September 1, 2021 at 11:40 pm

With the number of new start-ups soaring they all have to choose a name for themselves.

Climate change: Technology boosts efforts to curb tree loss in Amazonon July 12, 2021 at 11:01 pm

Smartphones and satellite data help indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon to limit deforestation."Over the next decade, if nothing changes, indigenous peoples in the...