Playing a fundamental role in the long-term safety of their properties and their occupiers, building managers have a clear responsibility to ensure effective passive fire protection methods are in place, as Graham Laws of Siderise Insulation explains.
Just over a year ago, the Fire Safety Act 2021 was introduced into UK law. It clarified that the people who have control over multi-occupancy residential buildings — such as developers, owners, and managers — are ultimately responsible for reducing fire risk in the building’s structure, external walls and common parts. A crucial aspect of this is ensuring that appropriate passive fire protection measures have been specified, installed, and that information about what they are, how they perform, and where they have been used is preserved for the property’s lifetime.
However, as a solution that is usually hidden behind the facade long before building management takes over, how can owners and operators both demonstrate the passive fire safety of their building and make informed decisions on how any future remedial or upgrade works should be approached to maintain that level of safety?
Why is passive fire safety important?
Passive fire protection is a legal requirement for both domestic and non-domestic properties under Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (Fire Safety). It is incorporated into the building structure and works by limiting the spread of flames, heat and smoke to create areas of manageable risk through the use of fire-resistant materials and gap-filling measures. This is known as compartmentation and serves to keep the fire in one location, protecting escape routes, making it easier for the fire service to gain control, and preventing further damage.
Solutions encompass an array of products, from fire doors to cavity barrier and firestops installed within the wall cavities which can, if left unprotected, act as a chimney for fire to spread into other building compartments.
As its name suggests, passive fire protection does not need any input to work, but it must be specified and installed properly to work.
Ensuring quality specification and installation
Exactly what fire protection measures need to be taken will be dictated by the specifics of the building and the project. However, like any building product, passive fire solutions should be appropriate for the application. Specifiers or engineers should have access to clear and accurate product data to effectively assess their suitability and any key performance claims should be backed with third-party testing. This provides unbiased assurance that the performance stated by the manufacturer is what it will achieve in the event of a fire. Often, a manufacturer’s technical service teams can also help to provide guidance on the best solutions for a particular project or issue.
As these systems are hidden away within the building’s construction, it can be difficult for building safety assessors to pick up on faulty installations. Therefore, it is important installation is undertaken by competent and skilled contractors who can demonstrate their commitment to accurate workmanship. Manufacturers can often offer comprehensive technical and site services and training, as well as options to audit the installation of their products.
Inspections are a regular requirement for many projects. However, with tight deadlines to meet, project teams often rely on the Building Control inspection which typically takes place when the passive fire protection products have been covered by the facade. While some projects may need or prefer an in-person inspection, manufacturer-developed inspection apps can allow for this extra layer of assurance without the added time and hassle of arranging an in-person visit from their site services.
Typically only suitable for standard systems, they can allow users to capture images as each area/element is installed and update the data input fields using their smartphone or tablet. The app then immediately turns this into a comprehensive report which can be reviewed offsite by a technical team to ensure the installation meets recommendations and quickly identify if any areas need remedial actions. Additionally, the report generated by the app provides a valuable visual record of hidden elements of a construction once the build
Where a manufacturer inspection has taken place, either by app or in-person, the final report can be included in the handover information, providing a clear record of exactly what’s in the building and how it was installed – maintaining that all important ‘golden thread’ of information.
There are also new digital tools being brought to the market which will make this process much easier in the future. In recent years, the importance of accurate and accessible product data in construction has been made increasingly clear. While much of the focus has been on specification, installers and building owners also need access to this valuable information both onsite and during future works. Digital identification platforms, such as BSI Identify, can provide a straightforward solution to product traceability.
Dedicated QR codes are added to products which are linked to BSI UPINs (unique persistent identification numbers) which are applied to every construction product within the BSI Identify database. When scanned, this will take the user to the exact product data supplied by the manufacturer, attributable to the day it was manufactured, whether that was yesterday or a decade later. This ensures that anyone can easily find all the correct product information relating to specification, testing, installation, and maintenance — including historic performance credentials, safety data and more.
Working together for a safer future
Passive fire protection is an essential of any building’s fire risk management plan. By ensuring you understand the importance of passive fire protection and what to look for when managing properties, you can ensure your building is continually compliant and occupants are safe.
Graham Laws is technical director from Siderise Insulation