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  • 1.  Standards, Codes and the Grenfell Tower Inferno

    Posted 07-05-2017 12:02 PM

    Sadly, it is always the disasters that wake up all to reflect on and perhaps learn – in this case form the horrific inferno (June 14, 2017) of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in London – a residential social housing building. The fire claimed 79 lives and many more injuries. While the blaming game and investigation continue, 75 more high-rise towers were evacuated by authorities saying that the claddings failed fire-safety tests.  

    Apart from the tragedy, the disaster is very disturbing because UK being a developed country, is supposed to have a robust building code drawing upon many decades of experience. What are the causes? Is it the building code? Is it the industry-standard upon which the code is based? Is it the lapse in regulating the code? Could it be the negligence of some quarters perhaps with the unfortunate mentality that for a social housing the code compliance can be relaxed?

    There can be many more questions. But one of the disturbing news that perhaps draws anybody's attention is that Arconic (manufacturer of the inflammable plastic core cladding) said in a statement on June 26, 2017 that it would stop producing the materials . . . the right decision because of the inconsistency of building codes across the world . . .

    Inconsistency in building codes? There are many standards organizations around the world producing many consensus based documents. Some of their core purposes are to help industries self regulate and to help legal jurisdictions develop codes. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an umbrella organization based in Switzerland having some 163 member countries, is supposed to harmonize (or at least point out deficiencies) of many different standards. Is there any lapse in ISO? Is it the inconsistency in standards? Or is it the failure of the jurisdictions to account for appropriate standards in developing enforceable codes?

    Hopefully answers to many such questions will come in a way that valuable lessons can be learned – to benefit all countries across the globe in the future.             

    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Consultant - Coastal, Port and Marine Engineering
    Vancouver, Canada

  • 2.  RE: Standards, Codes and the Grenfell Tower Inferno

    Posted 07-06-2017 09:41 AM
    I don't see the cladding as a code issue.  The lack of paths of egress in the building appear to be a larger code violation and concern.  The code is always considered the minimum standard.  Was the cladding appropriate for the application?  Let us not forget the lessons from The Station nightclub fire in RI.  What about that artist collective in Oakland?  Whether by direct involvement (London) or indirect (Oakland), the city and landlords cannot be allowed to turn a blind eye to any fire hazard.  Codes are not a substitution for common sense and the sound judgement of a local fire inspector/marshal.

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI

  • 3.  RE: Standards, Codes and the Grenfell Tower Inferno

    Posted 07-06-2017 11:07 AM
    ​The 24 story building would have been relatively safe from a refrigerator fire had it had a code complying fire detection and sprinkler system.

    Robert C. Jackson P.E., M.S.C.E.
    Structural Engineer
    Denver CO

  • 4.  RE: Standards, Codes and the Grenfell Tower Inferno

    Posted 07-07-2017 10:26 AM
    Building code is a pretty handy place for architects, engineers, constructors, owners, insurers, and inspectors. I believe that poor staffing levels in municipal inspection departments combined with a certain amount of cheating by actors in the system (not pointing fingers, just statistical reality), is how codes become more (even overly) conservative to make up for these failures. Pointing fingers at the manufacturer is sometimes a convenient reaction, but my understanding is that the manufacturer was not prohibited from selling in U.K. and typically has little control over the application or installation of their product as it arrives at the end user through the supply chain. Their role is two-sided and somewhat self-regulating - they want to sell product but they don't want egg on their face from a failure either.  Perhaps the role of code enforcement is underestimated.

    S Fisher Ph.D., P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    Denver CO

  • 5.  RE: Standards, Codes and the Grenfell Tower Inferno

    Posted 07-07-2017 10:17 AM
    ​From the news stories following this tragedy, it appears that neither adequate fire code compliance nor  common sense / sound judgement was exercised by the  responsible "regional public housing bureaucracy".

    I look forward to the report of investigation of the exterior cladding used. The media reporting implied that design and economics related to "global warming" was given more consideration  than basic fire protection safety.

    In the context of current events the media reporting may be questionable!

    Glenn Carlson P.E., M.ASCE
    Magnolia TX