Meet minimum fire resistance standard
Robert Cridford is technical director at materials supplier Siniat
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 and the subsequent identification of gaps in industry regulations, codes, practices and approval processes, there has been a major tightening of security legislation fire over the past few years – and rightly so.
The publication of the Hackitt report in 2018 played a major role in this, and in 2019 Approved Document B was updated to incorporate more stringent fire safety standards. The changes highlighted that industry should move away from British Standard (BS) fire resistance test systems and instead ensure that systems are both tested and rated to the latest European standards (EN ).
“While it may start with the manufacturer, it doesn’t end there. We need the whole supply chain on board”
The easiest way to look at the changes to Approved Document B is that any fire rated item must be proven using EN standards, following the process of ‘testing’, then ‘extending’, then of “classification”.
First, the tests should use the appropriate EN fire test standard. Then, the extension of test data to similar applications can be done, but only by qualified and approved third-party organizations using the test standard or extended application (EXAP) – and, importantly, only when the standards allow it. explicitly. Finally, this evidence must be validated and summarized in an official third-party grading report.
Following this chain means that you are adhering to Approved Document B and that everyone involved knows that the evidence meets a minimum standard of quality and verification.
The challenge is that the updated guidelines in Approved Document B may be more onerous than previous testing standards. They require extensive additional testing, expansion and classification of a manufacturer’s entire system portfolio, which is a laborious and costly task. This process takes time, even years, to complete. It is therefore understandable that since 2019 the industry has been in a period of transition.
However, three years later, the legacy recognition of the old BS standards should no longer be acceptable. Manufacturers of fire resistance systems should by now have invested in additional testing and classifications. In the very near future, all manufacturers will need to be able to provide rating reports for their most commonly used systems – at least.
But while it may start with the manufacturer, it doesn’t end there. We need the entire supply chain if the industry is to have a strong and consistent approach to fire safety testing, rating and classification. When human life is in danger, we must work collaboratively to strengthen our practice.
Confidence to design and build
Many designers and contractors are increasingly concerned about liability for poor design and construction, with difficulties in obtaining insurance and long extensions of liability periods for defects. But if we want to sleep at night knowing we’re building safely, making sure we’re following Approved Document B is the easiest way to mitigate those risks.
Building safety regulations will soon stipulate a “golden thread” of evidence of building performance, particularly around fire safety, driving the need for an up-to-date, easily accessible and uninterrupted thread of information. EN and (EXAP) proofs ensure that fire safety information is not only more reliable, but also provided in a clear and consistent format, making it easier to reach the common thread across the industry .
Thus, demanding classification reports are essential to ensure that fire safety standards are taken seriously. If contractors, architects and building control do not request adequate fire resistance information, it will not become part of the project requirements and will inevitably not be provided, potentially exposing the client, designers and contractors to future problems.
We know the industry takes the prevention of loss of property and life seriously. We must therefore put this concern into action. Complying with the latest and most robust legislation is the best – and easiest – way to improve the safety of our buildings and to give our partners and, more importantly, the people who will live and work in the buildings we build, the peace of mind they need.
The minimum standard
The strict extension rules of an EXAP standard mean that strict criteria must be met to increase height or modify components, and old conventions may no longer be valid. This will inevitably bring challenges and lead to changes in the practices of many different sectors of the construction industry. But if we really care about compliance, then it is absolutely necessary for the industry to get to grips with the right standards, adapt, and design and build accordingly. It’s not about going beyond that – it’s the minimum standard that we should all adhere to.
Like many things, supply and demand play a part in this. While manufacturers should invest in providing third-party classifications, contractors, architects and building control should be aware that these standards exist and that manufacturers are now able to meet them. Otherwise, as an industry, we are not building safely.