Grenfell: Kingspan insulation marketing ‘misleading’
The way Kingspan marketed the Kooltherm K15 insulation that was used on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment was “misleading” and was based on a 2005 fire test for years, despite the chemical composition of the material changing a year later.
That’s according to a former employee of Kingspan, who appeared before the Grenfell Tower Inquiry yesterday.
Quantities of K15 phenolic foam insulation were used as a substitute for Celotex’s RS5000 insulation product on Grenfell Tower when RS5000 became difficult to obtain. A report by Arup director Dr Barbara Lane, produced for phase one of the Inquiry in 2018, determined that the product was not compliant with Approved Document B for insulation products used in buildings of 18m or higher.
Former Kingspan technical project manager Ivor Meredith was questioned at the hearing yesterday (23 November) by Kate Grange QC about the way in which K15 had been fire tested.
Meredith, who worked for the company from 1999 until 2015, confirmed that by March 2004, he knew K15 was not a product of limited combustibility.
He also confirmed that he was aware that according to Approved Document B, in order to be classified as a material of limited combustibility, a material would need to be tested to part 11 of BS 476 and meet certain criteria, or be classified as A1 or A2 under the European classification. K15 was never tested to part 11 of BS 476, with Meredith agreeing that it “was never going to meet those performance requirements”.
The K15 product was tested to BS814-1 behind 6mm cement particle board on a masonry substrate in May 2005 and passed. But no BR 135 classification for that test was issued until ten years later, on 28 September 2015.
In his witness statement given prior to the hearing, Meredith said: “Kingspan had testing that met the requirements of BR 135. A classification report was additional expense which really said no more than the test unless you could add EXAP [extended application] rules and give it some scope of compliance. This is what we tried to do with offsite and the original part 1 test without success.”
Asked if it remained his view that a BR 135 classification report was an additional expense which said no more than the test report, Meredith said: “This was additional monies to pay for a test – – to pay for somebody to interpret the results, which I personally found easy to interpret. I did not know that a classification report was required.
“I understood that you just needed to cross-reference your results with the BR 135 document. But it became apparent that — at a later date that it was prudent to get a BR 135 certificate to actually validate your test results. But at the time, we just didn’t think it was needed.”
Grange asked: “Is another reason why Kingspan didn’t press for a BR 135 classification report from the BRE that it would have made clear that the classification only applied to the specific system tested?”
Meredith said: “I can see that that can be considered advantageous in hindsight, but really it was my oversight at the time that I’d felt a classification report wasn’t required, solely because I thought the results were easily interpreted, based on the information in BR 135.”
Grange then turned to marketing material that had been produced for K15 following the 2005 test to market the product for use over 18m. Entitled “What’s lurking behind your façade?”, the leaflet stated: ”Kingspan Kooltherm K15 Rainscreen Board has not only been tested by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and awarded certification to BS 8414-1:2002, but it has also been assessed and approved in accordance with BR 135.”
Asked if this was true, Meredith said: “We had personally – we’d assessed it in accordance with that document, but it’s unfair to say it had been approved by the BRE…It’s badly worded.”
The BRE subsequently complained about the leaflet and Kingspan was forced to withdraw it.
Meredith then asked colleagues to use a different text, which read: “Kingspan Kooltherm K15 has been successfully tested to BS 8414-1 and when assessed in accordance with BRE 135 it is acceptable for use above 18 metres in accordance with the English, Scottish and Irish Building Regulations.”
Grange asked: “Can you see now how that text might have been misleading, and might have led readers to believe there was a BR 135 classification report assessing that 8414 test against the pass/fail criteria in 8414(sic)?”
Meredith replied: “Yeah. I don’t think we ever — Kingspan ever intended to imply that there was a BR 135 report. It was just purely that the test results are meeting the requirements of. But, yes, I can see now in hindsight that they are ambiguous.”
2005 test withdrawn
Grange also detailed how, in a letter dated 23 October 2020 to the BRE, Kingspan had concluded that tests carried out in 2005 and 2014 “featured product that was not sufficiently representative of the product currently sold into the market place”.
Regarding the 2005 test, the letter said that due to the age of the test, information about it had been “hard to come by” and also that “it became apparent that the K15 manufactured in 2005 would not be representative of the product currently sold on the market from 2006 to today. While both products are still phenolic foams, Kingspan is now of the view that there are sufficient differences to consider withdrawing this test report.”
Grange asked Meredith: “Would you agree that, far from being something that Kingspan recently concluded, it was well known from September 2006 onwards that the 2005 test was undertaken with old technology K15?”
Meredith replied: “I think that was common knowledge, yes.”
Grange said: “And you were aware, weren’t you, that the fire performance of the new technology product was different from the product tested in 2005?” Meredith answered that he was.
Meredith also confirmed that he raised concerns about using the new K15 technology alongside the 2005 test.
He said: “It was very difficult. Although I was constantly pushing back, trying to box out the formulations used, and the different characteristics of the product, I was basically being told that the materials were the same, the new technology was essentially better, and in a lot of properties it was, but it performed differently in fire. I wouldn’t say worse, it just performed differently.”
He said he had “concerns” over the new technology and admitted “we should perhaps have been clearer in our marketing”.
He said he saw his job as “simply: go out there and try and get what verification you could from the marketplace to verify that the system was suitable or a product was suitable”. He agreed that he was “continually under pressure” to show that K15 was suitable for use about 18m.
Grange asked Meredith: “Would you agree that none of the marketing material put out by Kingspan refers to the specific system tested, including the cement particle board?”
Meredith replied: “I requested an addendum to the literature which put the reader in contact with the technical department…That if there was a building above 18 metres, they needed to speak to the technical department and go through the specifics with us. It was our intention to highlight to them at that point that they would – you know, we didn’t have all the answers, you needed to go out and source these from the other component manufacturers.”
K15 sold as suitable for above 18m ‘for many years’
Grange went on: “Would you agree that the marketing material uses the generic wording ‘non-combustible cladding’ in relation to that 2005 test to BS 8414, it doesn’t refer specifically to cement particle board?”
Meredith said: “Yeah, I would agree that the literature says that, and in hindsight it’s an oversight.”
Grange said: “And technical queries also used the same wording, didn’t it, ‘non-combustible cladding’? It didn’t descend into the particulars of the materials used, did it?”
Meredith said: “No, because we considered the 6-mil cement particle board to be a worst-case non-combustible cladding…You don’t get a 6-mil rainscreen cladding of that type, so anything else would be considerably more resilient. So it was our belief that this was a kind of a worst case.”
Grange pointed out to Meredith that the ninth issue of Kingspan’s marketing literature on K15 issued in 2011 wasn’t updated again until 2016.
It read: “Successfully tested to BS 8414:2002, can meet the criteria within BR 135 and is therefore acceptable for use above 18 metres.” She suggested to Meredith that the statement that the product was suitable for use about 18 was “wholly misleading” because it didn’t make it clear that it was suitable for above 18m in only one specific configuration.
She added that the literature stated only that K15 was tested under BS8414 but didn’t state if it was tested under 8414-1 or 8414-2.
Grange said: “On the basis of that one 2005 test, Kingspan continued to assert for many years that its product could be used on buildings over 18 metres, didn’t it?”
Meredith replied: “Yes.”
She added: “And would you agree that this was despite the test not being representative of a rainscreen cladding system and only being on a masonry substrate, and, even more fundamentally, Kingspan changing its product so that what was sold to market actually performed worse in fire, didn’t it?”
Meredith replied: “To some fire tests, it performed worse, yes.”
Grange said: “Yes. And, as a result, K15 ended up on many hundreds of high-rise buildings, didn’ t it?
Meredith replied: “I believe so, yes.”
Grange said: “When it shouldn’t have been anywhere near those buildings, should it?”
Meredith said: “It should have been dependent on construction…I think I’d have to look back at some of the letters we wrote as part of this to support that, but I thought we were kind of clear in saying that this wasn’t the final hurdle that you have to pass, this is just showing that the K15 can meet…I mean, there’s intention and there’s how it was implied in the marketing literature, which was maybe a little bit more misleading.”
In its opening statement, given at the start of module 2 of phase 2 of the Inquiry, Kingspan, which has denied any wrongdoing, said: “Although Kingspan Insulation had no knowledge until after the tragedy that any of its insulation had been used in the refurbishment of the façade of Grenfell Tower, it’s now clear that a limited amount of K15 phenolic insulation product was used during the refurbishment, when there were gaps in the availability of the specified insulation, Celotex RS5000 PIR.
“It’s also now clear that another of its insulation products, TP10, was used in some window reveals. The company has looked in detail at its processes and procedures and has identified some important process shortcomings, particularly in relation to the way that three BS 8414 tests, one undertaken in 2005 and two in 2014, were conducted and relied upon for the marketing of K15.
“However, further testing undertaken in 2015, 2016 and since the fire has supported and validated the performance claims made historically in respect of those three earlier tests. The company is confident, therefore , that at the time of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, these shortcomings did not affect the safety of any cladding system incorporating K15 which relied upon those three BS 8414 tests.”
The Inquiry continues.