Passive fire safety explored


Graham Laws from Siderise Insulation explores some of the ways residential building owners and managers can ensure that buildings and their occupiers are properly protected with accurate passive fire protection such as cavity barriers and firestops

Ensuring the passive fire safety of the building envelope is a key concern for every building owner and manager. It is something that must be considered at every stage of the construction process – from initial design and selection of products, through to the quality of their installation and on to the long-term maintenance. However, with ever-evolving legislation and standards to keep up with, as well as requirements increasingly diverging within England, Scotland and Wales, it can be challenging for project teams to ensure their work is in line with the Building Regulations and best practice. So, what are some of the steps we can take to ensure the solutions are specified and fitted correctly?

Check manufacturers as well as products

The starting point for passive fire safety is checking the requirements of the Building Regulations, understanding the required test standards, and the fire resistance performance needed. Evidence from manufacturers is a must. Misrepresented or misinterpreted claims increase the risk of ineffective specification or substitution, poor installation, inadequate classification, and noncompliance. At best, this will need additional work to put right. But at worst, this can severely compromise safety. It is essential that applicable test evidence to the correct standards is available. Therefore, demanding that the performance of any passive fire protection products is backed up with clear, up-to-date testing data and third-party certification, is vital. This information should be easy to find on manufacturer’s websites or from their technical team.

Seek advice from the experts

For projects with complex or stringent regulatory requirements, it is important to engage with experts in this field. Manufacturers are the ultimate experts in their products and their applications, and some offer extensive technical design support and clear and honest guidance on which products would meet the requirements for a specific project. They can also provide CPDs to help all kinds of project stakeholders – from architects or developers to fire engineers – to better understand how products work, how their performance is measured and what advancements are happening in the field.

This can also be supported by independent, area-specific consultants. They can be hired to help check and confirm that any specification details are as accurate and reliable as possible. These consultants will have an in-depth knowledge of the product families, their requirements and how they are tested.

Ensure site teams are comprehensively supported

Even the best product’s performance can be undermined by poor installation. Therefore, it is important that this is carried out by competent contractors who can not only demonstrate their commitment to proper workmanship but have access to the right support. Manufacturers that offer site services can help to ensure correct installation through training, assessment, and auditing. This support can also reduce the risk of contracting teams changing the specification to products they are more familiar with, but which may not meet the project’s performance targets.

Verify the accuracy of passive fire protection installations with inspections

Inspections are a regular requirement for many projects. 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. 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. These can then be reviewed offsite by the manufacturer’s technical team to ensure the installation meets recommendations and quickly identify any potential issues.

Maintain the golden thread

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. This helps to maintain that vital ‘Golden Thread’ of product information and be a useful reference point for any future modifications to the project that may affect the building envelope.

Go beyond for passive fire safety

There is no room for compromise when it comes to the fire safety of our buildings, and to achieve the best results, this means that all parts of the construction chain need to come together. Manufacturers of passive fire protection solutions for the building envelope have a vital role to play in this. They must go beyond simply providing tested and certified solutions, by supporting them with tools, services and guidance that will enable project teams to create multi-storey, multi-occupancy residential buildings that meet the highest safety and performance standards – both now and in the future.

Graham Laws is technical director at Siderise Insulation