Experts talk fire protection DNA of a building


Share this content


Erik Boyter, CEO, WindowMaster and Ian King COO Zeroignition explore importance of a robust fire protection built into the DNA of every building

Smoke control systems should be built, certified and delivered in a way that building owners and occupiers can depend on. 

It’s vitally important to recognise that only certified components of the system should be used. For example, smoke panels proven, factory built and certified to the relevant parts of EN12101 and other relevant standards like ISO21927-9. 

A factory-based quality system or factory production control, audited by a notified body, should be used to certify components of factory-built products.  

Consistency is key. Systematic checks of components, arrangement, fabrication and build in a controlled environment is the only appropriate route to prevent any variations in build from what has been tested and allowed to be certified. This helps ensure dependability as designed, and will enable the supplier to produce a product specific declaration of performance at point of manufacture. 

System install and commissioning should be conducted and completed by an appropriate party qualified and competent to do so. This might be demonstrated through voluntary certification such as the SDI 19 scheme. 

Finally, the building owner or manager is responsible for ensuring that the system remains compliant through a systematic approach to testing and maintenance. 

It cannot be emphasised enough for life safety systems: compliant systems must exist and be documented throughout the design, manufacture and delivery process, as well as through the life of the building. 

We’ve looked at smoke control systems, but of course fire safety also encompasses general building materials. While it is important to understand and use FR products in all building specification, it is also crucial we consider the wider system. Ian King, COO, Zeroignition, takes us through the importance of a systematic approach to fire safety. 

The Grenfell tragedy was a catalyst for change in the construction industry. It marked the realisation that much more needs to be done to ensure the buildings we live in are properly equipped to protect occupants from the risk of fire and that safety must be put first, above all else. 

As the Building Safety Bill continues to make its way through Parliament, albeit slowly, discussions around cladding continue to dominate headlines pushing fire safety even higher on the priorities list. Yet as we’ve seen, the pace of the bill has re-affirmed how notoriously complex fire safety compliance is in the UK. 

In reality, we must remember the Bill will be unlikely to eradicate some of the wider issues that the industry struggles with, namely, cost and more recently the availability of materials. Add to this the lack of construction product testing facilities, which are key to the ‘levelling up’ of standards and quality. The Local Government Association (LGA) is one example, encouraging more reliable testing systems that are also more user friendly. It also wants to see businesses caught selling products that aren’t fit for market, held accountable. “The new regulator must have real powers and sanctions and the regulatory system must be properly funded,” says the organisation. “Trading Standards authorities have found themselves caught between costly and complex arguments between test labs about the correct approach to testing, with no way to resolve them.” 

At Zeroignition, we agree with this sentiment. Since our founding, Zeroignition has been keen to see a vast improvement in accurate labelling by product manufacturers, ensuring that any information provided is easy to understand and identify, so that materials specified to construct buildings are what they say they are. Without this clear guidance, change will never materialise and people and properties will remain inadequately protected from fire. 

Disrupting traditions  

There’s no denying, construction projects are incredibly complex and involve a myriad of decisions. Every specification choice has a knock-on effect to the wider build, and unforeseen results can easily arise when a systematic approach to fire protection isn’t maintained.  

Although it’s widely agreed by industry professionals that a methodical approach is the key to quality, there’s clearly some scepticism as to how to achieve this. Manufacturers, specifiers and architectural bodies must do more to ensure best practice is fully established and abided by, on every single project, without fail. 

Beyond this, the construction industry should look to other industries for guidance, such as automotive and aviation, where a checklist approach reduces the risk of harm to passengers. It’s no longer good enough to work from memory or from a notepad and pen. Digital record keeping is now necessary to ensure certain fire planning elements aren’t being missed. 

Beyond this, we need to look to the latest in communications theory and decision making to ensure that fire communications are presented in a way that sticks, and use ‘nudge theory’ to ensure that it’s easier to do the right thing.  

Investing in robust knowledge  

We know that in-depth knowledge surrounding product safety standards is essential for architecture, specification and construction professionals. Those working in the industry must be sure they have the knowledge and understanding of fire safety when specifying building projects.  

It’s an area we investigated for ourselves, post-Grenfell, and the results reveal just how serious knowledge gaps around fire safety remain in the industry. The survey was conducted across the UK, Germany and France and of those questioned, just 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.  

A mere 2% of the architects interviewed said they’d received comprehensive fire protection training. While most agreed they had had some sort of training, less than one in ten (8%) said they’ve never had fire protection training. These findings reveal an urgent need for serious upskilling to ensure those building liveable structures are well informed and up to speed on the essential fire safety requirements and protocols.  

A third of architects who participated in the study also revealed that their current employer doesn’t spend enough on fire protection training, and it seems since the outbreak of COVID-19 particularly, many have taken matters into their own hands. NBS (formerly National Building Specification) says it saw a marked increase in webinar attendance, as more people were working remotely and had the time to attend digital webinars and seminars without having to build time into their day to travel to and from the training venue. Online webinars covered a variety of different topics including fire safety, and were attended by product manufacturers, as well as architects and specifiers. 

Positive change  

The digital ‘revolution’ of the construction industry is also enforcing positive change. ‘Digital footprints’ which explicitly show that work has been carried out to the appropriate standard are now essential. A further take up of this approach will no doubt help to implement watertight fire safety checks before a building is handed over to the occupant or end user. 

Discussions had with manufacturers we work with, have also shown first-hand how an increased focus on R&D projects is now taking place. Advancements in innovative materials that help boost fire safety are now coming to market for added protection on new and existing building projects.  

Given what we’ve seen, fire protection now needs to be given the attention it deserves and a uniformed, robust framework needs to be set in place to make sure consistency is achieved across the sector. Increased levels of third-party testing is another area that needs to improve and a greater understand of how components work in tandem will be a key element in improving fire safety within construction. 

Manufacturers also have a role to play. Specifiers need to have complete confidence in the products they are recommending which means product information must be up to date and accurate. Until we address the focus on quality vs cost, we’ll never achieve construction’s primary role: ensuring its occupants remain safe.   

Receive the latest breaking news straight to your inbox