With fire-related rates of death and injury remaining stubbornly high and with estimates of the financial cost of fire across the United Kingdom regularly topping the £1 billion mark, moves have been put in place to help provide adequate fire safety information for building owners or operators. Paul Thompson reports.
Across England and Wales the legal framework surrounding fire safety in buildings is set out under Building Regulation 38 – Approved Document B. This ensures that, where required, a package of ‘as built’ information recording the fire safety design of the building is given to the person responsible for the premises on completion of the work.
Fire safety information should include all fire safety design and construction methods and measures in appropriate detail and with sufficient accuracy to enable the ‘responsible person’ to operate and maintain the building safely.
In practice this could mean information on the passive fire protection (PFP) systems that have been installed on a scheme, including design details, specification and confirmation that the systems are suitable and have been installed correctly.
But therein lies the difficulty. Often the installation of passive fire protection systems can be incorporated into drylining packages but the world of PFP moves quickly and, in some cases, only specialist installers are fully up to speed with their technical specification and installation.
“It’s a real problem,” said Rod Ritson, managing director of Liverpool based passive fire specialist Firesafe Installations. “Packages are given to the wrong people. Designers need to strip passive fire installation out of the drylining package completely and make sure it is installed by specialist teams.”
That is a call echoed by industry body the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP). It has published a best practice guide on the installation of PFP systems and recommends the use of third party accredited installers and products.
“It can be difficult for contractors to keep control over who is installing these systems and what they are installing. That’s understandable as they are not specialists. All contractor members of the ASFP are third party accredited. They can prove that the products selected are appropriate to the project, have been correctly installed and they can provide detailed information to the end-user about operation and maintenance,” explained Wilf Butler, ASFP chief executive.
Accreditation and clearance for products is an area that manufacturer British Gypsum has focussed on for its fire rated products for many years. It has a strict testing regime for all those systems accredited by the British Board of Agrément (BBA), with products undergoing a full round of recertification tests if the seemingly most minor detail is changed.
“We are firm believers in third party accreditation,” said Andy Wilkins, senior product manager at British Gypsum. “Our Glasroc fire board product has been BBA accredited since the early 1990s. If there is a change in the slightest detail we review with third parties. Any change to system performance requires re-testing and validation. Even if we change the origin or source of any material we have to go through this process. From both an installer’s and main contractor’s point of view it gives peace of mind. Our installers are part of the BBA certification, too. We provide details of our customers throughout the UK as part of the audit process,” he added.
British Gypsum does not go down the licensing route for its products, preferring to continue selling its systems through traditional procurement routes. Other manufacturers though do limit the use of their materials and systems to preferred and licensed contractors. Promat, manufacturer of non-combustible composite panel system Durasteel, is one such company.
Adrian Clark, sales director at Promat, said: “Ensuring the safety and performance of our systems is of utmost importance to us. We are firm believers in strong certification and have a licensed network of installers. We keep a tight control of those specialist contractors who will pay for a licence and agree to go through our own training regime. Each installer is rigorously tested in a process that continues at site level. Our network of technical support managers will follow licensed installers onto site and once the job is finished we will send another manager to check the installation and issue the certification.”
Mr Clark admits that the licensing system loses Promat potential orders every week but is adamant the company’s stance ensures fire safety. “We support third party accreditation and our network of licensed installers also ensures there is conformity. We lose orders and there are cheaper products available but you can’t cut corners on these issues,” he said.
For Joe Cilia, technical manager at AIS FPDC, the policing of PFP installations is one area where the industry as a whole needs to sharpen up. He points at some main contractors that have recognised the issue and employ compliance officers to police sites.
One such compliance officer is Alex Double of ADDC Ltd. He has worked with some of the biggest names in construction and on some of the most high profile schemes, including The Shard in London.
He and his fellow inspectors are contracted to carry out inspections of the PFP systems during and post installation; they can also draft up remedial work plans that may be required.
“We have to be able to snag and de-snag,” Mr Double said. “We are fortunate that our clients recognise the importance of our work and we are given free rein during our inspections. We are often called upon if there are issues and there needs to be some level of retrofitting carried out. Sometimes the problems are not with the installation but with the design. We are able to offer seminars and guidance to all levels of the supply chain.”
What is clear is that across the construction process and on into a building’s operational phase clients, architects and contractors need to be sure of the systems they are specifying. Third party accreditation will certainly help deliver that level of surety.