ABI and manufacturers to counter fears over building materials safety

A crisis in the market for insuring buildings constructed with composite panels has led to a campaign by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and manufacturers to allay underwriters' fears.

The hard property insurance market has led to underwriters refusing to offer cover for buildings clad with foam-filled panels.

But manufacturers and the ABI say that these fears are unfounded. And the trade organisation and leading supplier Kingspan are setting up seminars for underwriters to address the crisis.

The ABI will hold education seminars to combat market confusion on sandwich panels, and panel manufacturer Kingspan is giving nationwide lectures.

British Rigid Urethane Foam Manufacturers Association (BRUFMA) chief executive GW Ball said that insurers were misjudging risks due to an over-simplified approach to composite panels.

The association represents nine of the UK's panel producers.

Manufacturers say their customers are being penalised by underwriters because of a lack of understanding of the different types of panels.

There are three main types of sandwich or composite panel: self-supporting polystyrene-cored panels that are used internally, mainly by the food industry, and structurally supported polyurethane and polyisocyanurate-cored panels that are used externally.

It is sclaimed that some panels perform worse than others in fires.

Europe's biggest panel manufacturer, Kingspan, has never manufactured internal panels, but it claims its customers are still penalised by underwriters.

The panels are typicaly used in office and warehouse construction.

Kingspan technical director Mark Harris said."An uninformed underwriter sees sandwich or composite panels and lumps them all together.

"Customers are very worried because it's mayhem in the market place at the moment."

Harris will address 50 underwriters on the issue at a meeting organised by Aon next week.

An ABI spokeswoman said the association researched the issue last year and sent its findings to its members.

She said the ABI also distributed the Loss Prevention Council's (LPC) manual of approved materials to its members every year.

"We've got more research underway and we're planning to hold educational seminars later this year," she said.

Harris said he feared some underwriters were ignoring the information, but admitted that it was difficult to interest people in the topic because it was highly technical.

He said Kingspan would continue to lobby for the adoption of LPC approval as the minimum standard required by insurers.

Since last year BRUFMA has worked with the British Standards Institution to establish performance requirements for polyurethane and polyisocyanurate-cored panels according to their end applications.

See BRUMFA's website for further information, www.brufma.co.uk ,or email brufma@brufma.co.uk