Inspections identify potentially dangerous cladding in four schools

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 Picture: PA

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 Picture: PA - Credit: PA

Four schools under the responsibility of Essex County Council have been potentially fitted with the same type of dangerous cladding used on Grenfell Tower, according to a fire safety report.

A report compiled by Independent Property Review Commission has specially highlighted concerns with Wentworh Primary School in Maldon, Danbury St Johns in Chelmsford and Buckhurst Hill Primary.

Edith Borthwick School in Braintree is to be visited by the county council (ECC) principal quality inspector over the Easter holidays.

A meeting is now planned to discuss the findings and determine the best course of action in each case, including, where necessary, the identification of any budget necessary to undertake remediation works.

The schools have been notified of the initial findings and specialist advice is being sought to determine whether there are any immediate operational measures that can be put in place to mitigate the identified risks as far as possible.

It is anticipated that, depending on the extent of remedial works required, they may be undertaken in the 2019 summer holidays.

Any sites requiring extensive remedial works may however take more time to plan and procure.

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A review that started in 2018 found there were very few buildings with more than three floors, of these none were residential in nature and none had cladding of concern.

But the Independent Property Review Commission (IPRC) subsequently raised concerns about the potential presence of cladding in schools with more than one storey, specifically in areas such as escape routes and refuge areas that could have potential to increase risk in the event of a fire.

Of 64 maintained schools with more than one storey, 32 had some form of cladding present on the buildings, of these eight schools had cladding near stairs; three schools had cladding near a refuge; six schools had cladding near a corridor; and 17 schools had cladding near a fire escape.

Of those 32 schools that had some form of cladding, 27 were determined as having no additional significant health and safety risk posed by the cladding.

Of the five remaining schools, one had recently become an academy and was therefore no longer under the control of ECC.

At Wentworth Primary School there are some areas of concern on the single storey areas where exterior cladding is present in the area of or closely adjacent to primary escape doors and routes.

This will require further discussion on whether any action is necessary.

At Danbury St John’s, PVC cladding is virtually everywhere adjacent to and around primary fire escape doors and routes and is a cause for concern.

This is especially clear as this appears to have been fixed over the top of the coated timber panels which are also combustible.

At Buckhurst Hill Primary School there are some areas of concern where cladding is in the direct area of or closely adjacent to primary escape doors and routes.

However this ECC believes this could be mitigated with good preparation and reapplication of a fire retarding finish.

The report, which will be discussed at a meeting later this month, says that of 13 recommendations in ensuring fire safety within its estate, 11 have been fully implemented.

One has been partially implemented while recommendation 12, that says ECC should review its approach to ensure that remedial fire safety works recorded as being necessary in fire risk assessment documentation are addressed within a reasonable period, is being addressed.

In conclusion the report said: “During this review, the IPRC has carefully considered ECC’s response to specific issues that emerged in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

“It has also examined the effectiveness of arrangements for ensuring appropriate fire safety standards in the design and construction of new ECC buildings, as well as the management of fire safety in existing ECC buildings and those undergoing refurbishment.

“In doing so, they saw clear evidence of well-established fire safety management systems, including some examples of good practice.

“However, they also identified a number of areas in which there is clearly room for improvement.

“Members of the IPRC believe that this report clearly articulates what they have found; the evidence in support of the findings; and a set of recommendations that provide ‘real world’ opportunities to secure genuine improvement.

“The eventual impact of the IPRC’s work will, however, be determined by the effectiveness of the response to this report.

“On that basis, IPRC members believe that a scrutiny exercise should be undertaken in 12 months’ time, to assess the extent to which recommendations have been effectively implemented.”

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