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Call for better safety testing for high-rise exterior claddings

Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 - 13:45
Industry news
National News

Costly and sometimes fatal fires in some of the world’s newest and tallest buildings have recently been stoked by highly combustible exterior claddings chosen for aesthetics, energy efficiency, weather-proofing and cost-effectiveness – and not safety, according to a global insurance company.

Moreover, prevailing methods for testing the combustibility of exterior claddings enable potentially life-threatening product assemblies to sail through regulatory approvals and onto the façades of residential and commercial properties throughout the developed world, said Louis Gritzo, vice president and manager of research at FM Global, one of the world’s largest commercial property insurers.

Some product combinations are not subjected to fire testing, according to Gritzo, who said that their combustibility is instead judged through desktop assessments and the only real, physical test will come when they are within the built environment in a real fire situation.

He explained that the reason for this is due to the costs and time to complete large-scale fire testing, which have led to the rise of “desktop assessments”.

FM Global regularly conducts fire research and participates in global building-code improvement efforts, and Gritzo said scientifically robust, repeatable, cost-effective, and timely testing must be completed to properly assess if a building material is fit for purpose.

FM Global proposed a better testing protocol that follows the company’s in-depth examination of exterior wall systems made of metal composite materials (MCMs) or aluminum composite materials (ACMs) using 16-foot-high parallel panels as outlined in the test protocol for the ANSI/FM 4880 standard.

“While many fire engineering firms perform desktop assessments in good faith, current practices and regulations introduce the possibility that substandard, dangerous assemblies will slip through the cracks,” said Gritzo.

“We can’t afford to take this risk as buildings burn and lives are lost, even in the developed world.”