By Dale Laidlaw, Manager, Risk Engineering Services
Aside from the construction cost benefits, EPS panels were also impressive from an operational point of view, providing excellent thermal insulation, superior hygienic conditions and high water resistance. But what wasn’t so well known during the EPS construction heyday was that the panels were also highly combustible.
Enclosed within outer metal skins, the EPS core consists of a highly combustible thermoplastic material. When exposed to heat from fire or another source, the material tends to melt quickly and create voids. This causes the panel to buckle and lose structural strength, opening up the joints and allowing flames/air to enter the core. The fire then spreads quickly throughout the structure.
EPS fires are extremely difficult to extinguish and often result in total property losses. Fire brigades all over the world are extremely reluctant to enter a burning building with significant EPS construction. Often, they’ll let the fire burn itself out and concentrate on protecting neighbouring structures.
A couple of massive fires in Victoria – Westgate Cold Stores abattoir in 2007 and Inghams Enterprises chicken processing plant in 2010 – prompted underwriters to radically rethink ratings for buildings incorporating EPS panels. Virtually overnight, it became very difficult and very expensive to insure building with significant use of EPS panels in their construction.
H W Greenham & Sons – which operates abattoirs in Tongala, Victoria and Smithton, Tasmania – was one of many businesses struggling to get insurance. It was a real wake-up call for the predominantly family owned company, which employs more than 400 people in regional areas and can trace its involvement in the meat industry back more than a century.
It came as a huge relief to the company’s then broker and now risk management consultant Gary Seymour when Lumley Insurance agreed to underwrite the risk on the proviso the company implemented adequate protective measures.
By implementing the recommendations from Lumley Risk Engineering’s Risk Management Assessment – including the installation of sprinkler systems at both abattoirs – H W Greenham went in a few short years from being an unacceptable risk to the majority of insurers to the winner of the 2013 Lumley Insurance Benchmark Award for Corporate Solutions Property Risk Management.
This is a great example of insurers, brokers and clients pragmatically working together to overcome risk obstacles that at first seemed insurmountable and coming through it all in better shape than before.
Model risk management: The H W Greenham & Sons story.
How did you and your clients cope when the dangers of EPS panels first became apparent? Do you have a similarly inspiring story to tell?