A balcony failure: the importance of product performance specifications

Timber Development UK members may have read news reports of the collapse of parts of a balcony at the Weavers Quarter apartment complex in Barking, East London. These reports have mentioned plywood elements that had come loose and fallen to the street below.

Seventy seven balconies at the building have now been blocked off and supported by scaffolding. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is working with Barking and Dagenham Council to investigate what the Council described as a “balcony fascia failure”, citing “the use of substandard materials”.

The full facts of the case are not entirely clear. But reports suggest that the wrong product was used for the required application, and therefore failed.

Ensure that the correct product is specified for the correct use

TDUK would like to remind members that they all have obligations towards building safety – wherever you sit in the supply chain.

Product suppliers and merchants placing product on the market have a responsibility to ensure that the performance criteria are clearly labelled and communicated to the customer via a Declaration of Performance (DOP). This should be backed up with a third-party assurance.

Designers and specifiers should ensure they specify the product correctly for the application it will be used for. They should ensure that any product with a performance criteria claim comes with a third-party assurance certificate and include this requirement in their specification.

Contractors, manufacturers and installers should ensure they follow the detail of the specification to the letter to ensure that the correct product is being used – suitable for the application to which it is being put.

The importance of a Declaration of Performance (DOP)

Many of the critical wood products supplied to the UK construction market are covered by the Construction Products Regulations. This means they must have a unique Declaration of Performance (DOP) and be CE / UKCA marked according to a EU Harmonised or UK Designated Product Standard.

Manufacturers in the UK or importers where construction products are manufactured outside of the UK must ensure the products they place on the UK market meet the requirements of the Product Standard, and the performance criteria of their product is accurately represented on the DOP and the CE/UKCA mark.

For manufacturers, this means a defined testing and inspection program, while for importers, it means a process of documentary checks and sample testing at a level to suit the safety critically of the product. However, this process does not end when the product leaves the factory.

From the time a product is first placed on the market, it is essential all members of the supply chain are able to read and clearly understand these claims, including Technical Classes and Testing Requirements, and these documents should accompany the product throughout its journey – all the way from factory to building site.

Resources available from TDUK

TDUK publishes a comprehensive set of timber product guidelines and use classes, which can be downloaded for free.

The Merchant Guide, one of our many publications, contains information about the BS EN Standards which apply to both structural and non-structural plywood. It can be downloaded here.