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Fire chiefs seek tighter regs on panels after fatal blaze

Insulated core sandwich structures said to lack appropriate guidance for external use

Senior fire chiefs have called for a review of Building Regulations after the Warwickshire warehouse blaze in which four firefighters perished.

They said the scope of the current Building Regulations covering fire safety, Approved Document B, did not go far enough and called for greater clarity on the use of insulated core sandwich panels.

The Regulations feature an Appendix F which covers the internal use of sandwich panel systems in a building but there is no guidance to their use externally.

Frank Sheehan, chief fire officer at West Midlands Fire Service, said there was a pressing need for the Regulations to be updated.

He said: “Appendix F should have been extended to cover -external applications and greater control mechanisms applied by building control bodies with regard to acceptable systems and usage.”

He said the only technical guidance on the use of insulated structures was a document published by the International Association of Cold Storage Contractors. While this document is considered appropriate for most panel applications it is primarily intended for cold storage buildings.

Appendix F was introduced following a blaze featuring polystyrene foam cored sandwich panels which killed two firefighters at a food processing factory in Hereford in 1993.

It is understood that the roof of the building in last weekend’s fire in Atherstone-on-Stour was built using polyisocyanurate foam cored sandwich panels.

Sandwich panels are manufactured to Loss Prevention Standard 1181, which certifies that all panels meet certain production criteria. It was also introduced following the fire in Hereford.

But the Fire Protection Association and insurers have concerns over LPS 1181. They have called in fire safety specialist International Fire Consultants to assess its effectiveness.

Peter Jackman, chairman and technical director at International Fire Consultants, said: “People misuse LPS 1181. Insurers give it a much greater authority than they should. There should be another standard introduced but it could be used as part of a checklist to ensure there is enhanced structural stability in fire scenarios.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We will have to wait for the findings of the investigation into this tragic event to see if there are any lessons that need to be learned.”

Analysis: Panel guidance needed immediately

By Paul Thompson

The tragic news that four fighters lost their in a warehouse fire in Warwickshire has eerie echoes of a blaze almost 15 years ago at a Hereford food processing warehouse.

It was a building which featured combustible foam core sandwich panels and the fire highlighted the risk in using this product.

LPS 1181 certification and Annexe F to Approved Document B were brought in to solve these problems.

Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case.

In November 2005 an alert was sounded when a distribution centre in Leicestershire burnt down. It too featured combustible foam cored sandwich panels.

That there is no technical guidance in Approved Document B for the external use of sandwich panel systems is astounding and must be addressed - before the Fire Service is once again left counting the cost of regulatory failures.