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FM Global cautions on desktop assessment amendments

FM Global, the international risk assessment and insurance provider, has cautioned on the government’s plan to restrict desktop assessments in fire testing.

A government consultation has been launched to address concerns over using desktop assessments on fire risks of external cladding systems using Aluminium Composite Materials (ACM), following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

However, FM Global believes that options proposed by the government to restrict these assessments do not address the fundamental issues with the accuracy of the tests, and may actually result in a higher number of assessments being carried out. In their opinion, if the government proposals are passed, it may send a signal to the industry that desktop assessments for ACM cladding are acceptable and could therefore encourage their usage. However, FM Global argues that there appears to be nothing in the proposals that would increase the evidence base that the assessments rely on.

The Company suggests that there is strong evidence to suggest that desktop studies may have contributed to the use of dangerous combinations of building materials. Following the tragic fire that engulfed London’s Grenfell Tower in June 2017, the Government has been identifying public buildings with Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding systems to assess whether the systems pass fire safety standards. Of 319 public buildings the Government has identified with ACM cladding, only 13 had cladding systems that meet safety standards. The rise of desktop assessments for ACM cladding systems is the primary factor in explaining why the vast majority of the buildings tested by the Government have failed safety tests. Desktop assessments are often used to replace traditional fire-testing as a cost-effective solution, but critically, many assessments base their findings on limited knowledge and assumptions, allowing potentially dangerous, flammable materials on to building façades.

“We simply do not have enough data from actual fire tests to know if the desktop assessments are reflecting how these materials would behave in a fire. Therefore, we have no confidence in them. The Government proposals will not change the data that desktop assessments are based on and we are concerned they would in fact contribute to their wider use.” said Chris Johnson, Executive Vice President, FM Global.

“Testing for ACM cladding needs to be vigorous to avoid any more disasters like Grenfell. Only through scientifically based testing will we be able to develop the knowledge base and experience to fully assess the materials and whether they are fit for purpose. Without a sufficient knowledge base and detailed understanding of all the variables, relying on desktop assessments for cladding systems is like building on sand.”

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