On June 14th 2017, a fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in west London, causing 72 deaths and more than 70 injuries. It is considered the deadliest fire in the UK since the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea and the worst UK residential fire since the second world war.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review into the Grenfell tragedy highlighted the necessary steps to further enhance the fire safety of buildings. It also highlighted why it’s important that the building and construction industry uses a fire safety risk- and outcome-based approach. In a way, the root cause of failure in the case of Grenfell Tower came down to a lack of understanding of the materials and systems used in the building, and the level of associated fire risk.
Perhaps Sir Walter Raleigh wasn’t directly referring to fire safety when he said that ‘Prevention is the daughter of intelligence’, but he certainly could have been. Whether it’s a small flat in a low-rise building or a huge shopping centre, people’s lives are at stake. Building owners and managers need to take both active and passive measures to ensure human safety in the event of a fire.
Despite the tragedy of Grenfell, buildings are still at high risk and fire safety standards are still being ignored .Only last week it was reported in the news that MORE than two in five public buildings inspected in Hampshire last year were found in breach of fire safety regulations.
Home Office data shows 234 properties inspected in the year to March did not comply with fire safety laws – 44 per cent of those inspected.
They included 66 blocks of flats, 34 shops and 30 other forms of sleeping accommodation.
Home Office data shows 405 buildings inspected by the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service in the year to March did not comply with fire safety laws – 53 per cent of those inspected.
What is passive fire protection (PFP)? Like a vaccine, passive fire protection helps stop the spread of fire and reduces its severity. The term can include a wide range of products and practices, but it generally refers to materials built into structures that make them more fire-resistant.
The goal of employing PFP is twofold: to make a building safer for evacuation and, what’s even more significant, to prevent a fire from ever turning into a threat to life.
Fire tends to spread from item to item and then from room to room. Certain products address the former, while intumescent materials address the latter. Regardless of what method is used, the fundamental goal of PFP is to delay or stop the spread of fire. The pillar of passive fire protection lies in compartmentation. Walls, floors, and rooms are separated using different techniques, to divide the building into areas to provide clear compartmentalisation. This leads to improved safety for people inside buildings and gives them longer to evacuate.
Load-bearing beams, walls, and floors have to be able to support their load under fire conditions. Fire Doors, walls, glazed screens, and suspended ceilings have to stop fire ingress (flames and heat). Building services ducts need to be fire-stopped to ensure the ducting does not provide an easy route for fire. All fire resistance measures must be correctly designed, specified, installed, and maintained. PFP products and systems can be installed in a building or be part of the fabric of a building. They should be installed by certified, competent parties and correctly maintained. Penetration seals are required for pipes, cables, and other services supplying the building.
In the U.K., the onus is on building owners, managers, occupiers, and designers to undertake regular fire risk assessments. These should include an evaluation of the PFP in the building and adhere to regulations, which state people must be able to safely exit a structure that will not collapse when on fire.
Regardless of whether the building is domestic or non-domestic, PFP provision is required in all buildings. In England, new builds, refurbishments, or extensions must adhere to The Building Regulations 2010, Fire Safety, Approved Document B. The regulation states that:
‘If a fire separating element is to be effective, every joint or imperfection of fit, or opening to allow services to pass through the element, should be adequately protected by sealing or fire stopping so that the fire resistance of the element is not impaired.’
The conclusion is protecting people inside burning buildings is not easy. It requires the right mix of products, procedures, and systems. Getting it right differs on every building, as each one has it’s own unique requirements based on size, shape, purpose, and materials used in construction. However, taking both active and passive measures will guarantee that every person stands a better chance of being safely evacuated from a building on fire.
Legionella and Fire Safe Services are the UK’s leading experts in passive fire protection. Our operatives are fully compliant with the latest industry regulations, so our clients can feel confident that their building is protected from fire. To speak to one of our passive fire protection specialists, contact us today.
Tel 0800 080 3045