Articles by Ian King
In my latest article for TheBigRedGuide.com, I gave a detailed explanation of the differences between British and European fire safety standards. To help shed some light on this complex world, our team of fire safety experts concisely defined the Euroclass and UK standards, and explained how they differ. This article will aim to go one step further and demonstrate what architects, specifiers, and other industry professionals should be looking for when they’re selecting materials and products for a project. While each build is unique, several key factors should always be considered by those responsible for the specification of materials. Keep reading for four factors to consider. Thermal barrier usefulness This is the most important point. It’s crucial that what is specified for the final project is identical to the configuration that was tested. If it’s not, delve deeper and search for comparative data between two or three possibilities. The Field of Application in the Classification Report may cover the configuration, but that should be based on test evidence. Glassfibre insulation is Euroclass A, but it melts in a fire, completely negating its thermal barrier usefulness It should be emphasized that Euroclass B isn’t inherently worse than A, nor is Euroclass A necessarily better – it depends on the application. Glassfibre insulation is Euroclass A, but it melts in a fire, completely negating its thermal barrier usefulness. Equally, combustible material such as wood cannot attain A, as it will eventually burn due to its chemical make-up. This doesn’t make it any less attractive, or useful. As a building material - if correctly specified and fire protected – it is an entirely appropriate selection. The correct rating for each build is dependent on several factors unique to each project. Active fire protection These include, but are not limited to: The actual application requirements. This involves considering important aspects including the height of the building, and what its intended purpose will be. For example, a residential property will be in use 24 hours a day including overnight, and this will create different safety requirements compared to buildings such as offices which are usually only in use during daylight hours. Fire contribution to a system. Assessing how a material contributes to the overall fire risk the proposed system carries, and what measures have been taken to protect the structure in the event of a fire. This includes both passive and active fire protection measures. Consideration of engineering implications of each available product. This requires a careful analysis of how each potential material choice differs. For example, one product may be heavier or much harder to install than another which will impact how fit-for-purpose it really is for the project in question. How products react when they’re exposed to external weather conditions should always be carefully assessed. Some materials degrade as a direct result of exposure to the elements. Over time this will negatively impact the building, and in some cases make it far less safe and secure as the building ages. Better-Informed decision Go beyond product classification reports and hunt for test reports on proposed systems Be wary of claims about individual products. These can become null and void when they are incorporated into a larger system, as the overall fire rating will almost certainly change. This could result in the whole being significantly less than the sum of its parts, completely jeopardizing the safety of the end-users or occupants. Before you commit to a product, make sure you’re well versed in what you’re working with. Go beyond product classification reports and hunt for test reports on proposed systems. This will help you make a conclusive, better-informed decision. However, be warned, this information is notoriously hard to come by, so persistence is key. Make sure only to specify products that have been accredited by a third-party lab. Fire protection treatment Although it’s still legal for companies to self-certify materials, the practice allows for sub-standard products to become readily available on the market. Along with a third-party accredited test certificate, request CE documentation to ensure the product in question is still CE rated after its fire protection treatment. Some treatments will invalidate the CE mark on the non-treated product. The practice allows for sub-standard products to become readily available on the market There’s no denying that current safety standards are wildly complex and, even for the most experienced specifier, can take time to get your head around. Under time pressure, you need peace of mind, so it would be worth involving certified fire safety consultants from the outset. They will ensure you’re specifying certified, fit-for-purpose materials, prioritizing the build’s safety and offering clarity. Robust fire safety A collective concerted effort to thoroughly understand and select products that are tried and tested to create robust builds can only ever be a positive step. Combine this with the Government’s new building safety bill due to come into effect in August (2021), and the fact that many more companies are investing heavily into R&D to produce new materials with safety at the forefront, means the future is looking bright for construction, with robust fire safety baked into a building’s DNA as standard. Developing more state-of-the-art technology and facilities, and sourcing highly-skilled, knowledgeable professionals to ensure all bases have been fully covered, will achieve better fire-rated products and systems across the board. This is key to achieving the outcome we are all chasing - safer material choices that work as a system and deliver excellent fire protection.
As the demand for UK housing continues to rise, developers and planning authorities are under increasing pressure to deliver the intended UK Government target of 300,000 new homes per year, by the mid-2020s. The need to build as quickly and as cost effectively as possible, unfortunately often leaves little time to invest in developing a thorough understanding of notoriously Byzantine fire safety standards, increasing the risk of serious, potentially fatal, mistakes. firm understanding of fire regulations Fire safety has pride of place on the construction agenda, having been taken more seriously, following the Grenfell Tower fire. However, a collective acknowledgment of the issue alone is not sufficient. It has to be backed with clear knowledge, and a firm understanding of fire regulations should be non-negotiable for all industry professionals. Approved Document B is commonly used by many industry professionals as guidance Broadly speaking, the industry’s understanding of British Standards is good. However, Euroclass standards are fast becoming more widely used. You only have to look to the most recent versions of Approved Document B, Volumes 1 and 2, where Euroclass standards are referred to throughout the main text, while the British standards can only be found in the Appendix. Approved Document B is commonly used by many industry professionals as guidance. I should stress, it’s not a fire testing document, rather it’s meant as an advisory document. As such, additional research and reading around the products specified for each project is essential. Deciphering the differences To help shed some light on the complex world of fire safety standards, our team of fire safety experts has compiled the table below, which concisely defines the Euroclass and UK standards, and explains how they differ. It’s worth noting, before we get started that UK classifications don’t equate with European reaction-to-fire classifications, and vice versa. The two sets of tests are conducted differently, each using its own methodologies and measurements. Moreover, it is important not to assume a product has met a certain standard unless it can be proven that it has been specifically tested to that standard and carries the associated certification. UK classifications don’t equate with European reaction-to-fire classifications, and vice versa The two sets of tests are conducted differently, each using its own methodologies We hope this outline of the key considerations around fire safety standards has started to put your mind at ease, giving you more headspace to navigate the winding path to a robust, fire-safe project. Read part two of this series here.
The Grenfell tragedy has shocked the public and rocked the construction industry. The ongoing inquiry into the 2017 tower block fire has exposed huge flaws in existing practices across architecture, material specification, and building projects. It is also reinforcing the critical importance of fire protection. It took Grenfell, and admittedly the many years that have followed, for the industry to fully reappraise the product selection and testing regimes needed to ensure resident safety in buildings. Now, the tide is really starting to turn. Fire protection training Research we conducted across the UK, Germany, and France, in the aftermath of the disaster, revealed that knowledge levels surrounding fire and fire protection amongst some of our most trained professionals in architecture was very low. Across the three countries, only 3% of architects were able to correctly define the four basic fire protection terms: active fire protection, passive fire protection, fire resistance, and reaction to fire. Of the architects surveyed in the UK, 8% were able to define the four terms, in France, it was only 6%, and in Germany none. Hardly any of the architects interviewed, a mere 2%, said they’d had comprehensive fire protection training, most had some training, and less than one in ten (8%) say they’ve never had fire protection training. Fire-Protected buildings It was clear, post-Grenfell, that things needed to change, ensuring fire awareness is a top priority Our research confirmed that architects and specifiers had limited knowledge of fire protection and a lack of training in the area of designing safe, fire-protected buildings. It was clear, post-Grenfell, that things needed to change, ensuring fire awareness is a top priority, no matter how much time pressure industry professionals are under. And now they have. I believe that when COVID hit in spring 2020, a window of opportunity opened for fire protection awareness. Working together seamlessly Overnight, the majority of us were confined to our homes and adapting to working remotely where possible. For some businesses - such as ours here at Zeroignition - it had very little impact. Zeroignition is a global company and we have always operated remotely, enabling us to hire the best possible experts from around the world all working together seamlessly, remotely, and across 10 time zones. For other businesses, particularly architects, specifiers, and building consultants within the construction industry, this shift, which remains the same almost a year on, provided a very different way of working. A way that has now been proven to really work. Benefits of homeworking Online webinars have covered a variety of different topics including fire safety The benefits of homeworking are plentiful. One of the major benefits is time, a luxury many of us just didn’t have pre-pandemic. Now there’s no commute to work, to meetings, and to events. As exhibitions and conferences could not take place last year, many moved online, giving industry professionals the chance to engage and learn from the comfort of their own home, often at a time to suit their personal schedule. Since the outbreak of the pandemic last March, it has been reported that a whopping 49.2% of the British workforce were intent on investing time to actively further their learning. The NBS, (formerly National Building Specification) says it has seen a dramatic increase in webinar attendance. Eager participants include product manufacturers and also architects and specifiers. Online webinars have covered a variety of different topics including fire safety. Fire protection standards At Zeroignition we know that education is non-negotiable when ensuring buildings are built safely. Government regulations are being tightened to save lives, and as an industry, those of us in the business of design and construction must also continue to challenge ourselves to know more in order to meet incredibly high fire protection standards. Increased knowledge, coupled with a systematic approach - where products are seen together as a system, rather than individual components - would turn our methodology on its head for the better. Traceability is also a key component to add to the mix. One of the biggest failings unveiled by the Grenfell inquiry was the lack of traceability of products used for the building refurbishment. Investing in research and Development The introduction of a new regulator will help to ensure materials used when constructing buildings are safe This just wouldn’t happen in other industries such as aviation, or automotive, where every component of the structure is known and recorded. The introduction of a new regulator will help to ensure materials used when constructing buildings are safe, fit for purpose, and 100% traceable. Companies must be ready to stand up, take responsibility, educate themselves and invest in R&D to enable them to do things properly. The companies we’ve spoken to are willing to be more transparent, and share a product’s journey from testing, through to manufacture, installation, and maintenance, which is so important and really promising to see. Filling knowledge gaps From the very beginning, we’ve been challenging the industry to improve. To learn more. To try harder. To think differently. I can attest from our conversations with manufacturers that safety elements including fire safety have risen to the very top of the agenda. Never before have I seen companies so invested in R&D to enable them to build smarter, better, and safer – and consign appalling events like Grenfell to the history books. The pandemic has given the opportunity to invest time in filling knowledge gaps. So let’s continue to invest time in education and personal development to do better. Because it really matters. Change is imminent and safety is at the forefront.