In response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future’ report, the British Board of Agrément (BBA) is consulting with the construction industry to review the product assessment and certification process for construction products, naturally with a focus on addressing the safety challenges of Higher Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs). Its headline suggestions are striking and would represent a radical shake-up of testing and certifications to cover the entire lifespan of construction products like cladding and insulation.
The evidence given to the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry over the past months has revealed a dangerous culture where cladding and insulation product manufacturers were able to ‘game’ the testing system in such a way that products that were unfit for purpose could be certified, supplied and fitted on HRRBs. The BBA, being a major supplier of construction product certification services in the UK, have set out their proposals (called, for the time being, ‘Agrément Plus’) which fall broadly into four headlines:
1. An earlier involvement in the client product development process
— Seeking earlier engagement with clients’ product development cycle.
— Supporting clients with knowledge and expertise to ensure that consistent, evolutionary progress is made throughout the development and testing cycle.
2. Enhanced testing regime
— Actively seek involvement in the range of testing typically engaged in during product development cycles.
— Review the results of all test results made, as well as BBA observation of tests submitted for assessment and certification purposes (including fire testing).
3. A sample analysis/characterisation, sometimes also referred to as ‘fingerprinting’
— Utilisation of sample characterisation, or ‘fingerprinting’ as a developing science.
— Exploring the value in storing original samples used for testing and assessment as reference material (with the caveat that storing actual samples may not be physically possible due to bulk, deterioration over time and other factors but product sample DNA or ‘fingerprint’ could form a viable alternative);
— Post-certification, lifecycle testing and referencing to be made simpler and more accurate.
4. A regular and ongoing testing regime post-certification
— A regular testing programme with randomly selected material, to be carried out unannounced at regular intervals.
— Currently, all construction product testing is carried out pre-certification. It is possible that a product may never be submitted for additional testing throughout its lifecycle, a period that can run into decades.
The greatest takeaway from these proposals is how it moves testing and certification from a pre-approval, ‘single’ process to a continuous, whole-lifespan process that will require attention from manufacturers, suppliers and end-users of these products. It is also fair to assume that any eventual, more rigorous, ongoing testing process will also end up being more expensive.
The proposals are currently targeted at HRRBs, although the BBA “may extend it beyond high risk residential buildings…this is the starting point for us because it is the most critical aspect of performance, as far as construction products are concerned, that needs to be addressed.”
The consultation (which can be found here) remains open to industry stakeholders to contribute until Friday 19 March.