Between November 2020 and March 2021, eight Kingspan managers were called to testify and produce documents in the U.K. Government’s ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Seven others provided witness statements and additional documents. Our report, “Kingspan and the Grenfell Tower Inquiry: A Report for Architects, Specifiers, Project Managers and Fire Protection Engineers,” contains information from the thousands of pages of testimony, witness statements and related documents concerning Kingspan that became public. As documented in the report, the Inquiry has uncovered issues from 2006 to 2020 with Kingspan’s fire testing, certification and mis-marketing of its popular insulation product Kooltherm K15.
Inquiry: Does this exchange tell us that you were prepared to interpret ADB [Building Code] in a particular way in order to make sales?
Pargeter: Yes that would be true.
Inquiry: And that particular way was less safe, less conservative, and not ideal?
Pargeter: Potentially, yes.
Some of the issues covered in our report include:
- Until October 2020, Kingspan continued to use a 2005 large scale fire test to market K15, despite the fact that Kingspan had introduced a new, more flammable, version of K15 in 2006. An internal Kingspan report from a December 2007 large scale test highlighted that the phenolic [K15] “burnt very ferociously,” that the test rig had turned into a “raging inferno” with the phenolic “burning on its own steam,” and that the test had to be shut down prematurely “because it was endangering setting fire to the laboratory.”
- Four 2007-2008 fire tests involving this new version of K15 failed to meet the standard necessary to pass the test. These remained secret until revealed by the Inquiry.
- Kingspan conducted no further large scale tests until 2014, when two more tests failed. A third test in 2014 met the passing standard, but the inquiry discovered in 2019, had been conducted using an r&d version of K15 that was different from the version being sold.
- Only in October 2020 did Kingspan withdraw this test (and 2 others, including the 2005 test that had been done on a version of K15 that had not been available since 2006), just weeks before the company was scheduled to testify in the Inquiry.
- Between 2006 and 2015, there was not a single successful large scale fire test that could be applied to the K15 being sold in the market.
- By early 2008, Kingspan managers and executives were aware of the “bad fire performance,” fire test issues, and inappropriate marketing of the insulation, and they understood that the product risked not passing the appropriate fire tests for which Kingspan was actively marketing it.
- Kingspan relied on misleading safety certificates for K15 starting in 2009. For example, for years, Kingspan relied on a certificate stating that K15 “can be considered a material of limited combustibility.” In his 2020 testimony, Technical Manager Philip Heath, who had oversight over the certification process, agrees that “I knew at that time that it wasn’t a product of limited combustibility” and that this was “fundamentally misleading on this key aspect of suitability for use over 18 metres.”
- For years, Kingspan issued misleading marketing literature and advice (“letters of suitability”) to use K15 in configurations for which it was never tested, and in some cases, for which it had failed tests.
The Inquiry revealed how, during this period of 14 years, numerous managers and executives were involved in discussions about these problems and decisions regarding the certification, testing and inappropriate marketing of the product, and several are still involved in the testing and certification of this product and others.
Kingspan ignored warnings from both inside and outside the company about these issues for many years.
- In a 2008 email, Kingspan’s manager in charge of large-scale fire testing, Ivor Meredith, explains to Kingspan managers that:
“Whereas [K15 produced with the] old process will self extinguish, [K15 produced after 2006 with the] new process has proven itself in a vertical situation to continue to burn when the flame source is removed.”
- When a contractor, Bowmer and Kirkland, raised concerns about the use of K15 in a high rise project, Kingspan’s Technical Manager, Philip Heath, (who sat on the Kingspan management committee with executive directors and senior management), emailed a friend in October 2008:
I think Bowmer & Kirkland [multi-national blue chip main contractor] are getting me confused with someone who gives a dam. I’m trying to think of a way out of this one, imagine a fire running up this tower. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Any ideas?
- Although Heath agrees in his 2020 testimony that Kingspan had no relevant test evidence to support the use of K15 in this project, he emails his team in 2008 about concerns raised by engineering consultant Wintech:
Wintech can go f#ck themselves, and if they’re not careful, we’ll sue the a#se [off] them.
November 2021: Kingspan’s demand that we cease distribution of the report
On November 1, Kingspan’s attorneys sent us a letter demanding that we discontinue circulation of our report based on what they called “inaccurate and libelous statements.” You can read our full rebuttal here.