We are in unsettling times regarding building fire protection. There have been many changes in fire regulations over time and potentially more are ahead following many recent tragedies. So how can you ensure your building is protected?

In 2015-16, fire and rescue services in England attended 529,000 incidents: a 7% increase compared with the previous year. In total, there were 303 fire-related fatalities and 7,661 casualties. Fire brings devastation to buildings and lives, and the government has made regular amendments to Building Regulations over the years, most recently in 2013.

However, not everyone is taking note. Just recently, residents of an apartment block in Manchester were forced to move out after it was found that fire safety standards hadn’t been met.

The Building Regulations for fires are split into five sections, taking into account two types of buildings:

Dwelling Houses: Places where people live, including sheltered houses (excluding flats).

Buildings Other Than Dwelling Houses: Offices, hospitals, shopping centres, apartment blocks etc.

We’ll outline each section of the regulations below and discuss how to equip both dwellings and non-dwellings to ensure the building – and people inside – are safe and protected from potential fires.

Warning and Escape

The regulation outlines two routes of escape: the first is horizontal, which refers to moving across a floor of a building towards a stairwell. The second method is vertical, which refers to walking down the staircase to safety.

It’s crucial that these stairs lead people directly outside without needing to pass through another section of the building; and each room must lead directly to an escape route. The only exception here is for kitchens, bathrooms, laundry and utility rooms.

You should also consider wheelchair users too: vertical circulation must be present on the landing of each stairwell, so that they can safely wait for assistance.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that your fire alarms are adequate and working. They must have a standby power supply and extensions on buildings must also have fire alarms.

For dwellings, smoke alarms should be fitted no further than 7.5 metres away from a bedroom door, and also be located in landings and halls. You should place one in the kitchen – especially if you have an open plan area.

Don’t forget to test your fire alarm at least once a week. If you’re in a large building such as a block of flats or offices then it’s important to run drills so that everyone knows how to exit the building safely, should a fire occur.

According to official statistics, 28% of all dwelling fires, and 33% of non-dwelling fires that occurred didn’t have a fire alarm, which could have alerted the people inside much sooner.

Our Experience

Countless times we inspect buildings with inadequate fire stopping measure, ill-fitting fire doors and holes in ceiling voids you could play a game of tennis through, not to mention the discovery of the dreaded ‘pink foam’. Suffice to say, there are a lot of aspects of a building to work with to ensure its occupants are safe in the event of a fire.

The benefits of adhering to passive fire protection standards are clear. Passive fire protection prevents the spread of flames and smoke in the event of a blaze, so getting it right saves lives, reduces the damage to buildings and equipment, helps to ensure the continuity of public services and the survival of businesses, and it can also reduce your insurance premiums.

Internal Fire Spread (Linings)

Fire is spread through flammable materials, so it’s important that you reduce the risk and rate of this happening.

You may not be aware of this, but fire is most commonly spread through walls and ceilings, as opposed to floors (furniture can play a part too).

For load-bearing walls (one which supports other elements of the building), it’s important that they’re built with steel beams so they can resist fire for 30 minutes, allowing time for people to escape. Alternatively, if you have a concrete beam, then provided it has steel reinforcement inside, that should be adequate too.

For internal walls and ceilings, materials used must be Class-1 rated in order to prevent fire from spreading. These materials usually have two layers: an intumescent first coat and a flame-resistant topcoat.

If you have timber cladding then you can apply a paint-on coating to protect it to a Class-1 degree.

External Fire Spread

I think we are all too familiar with the fact that it’s not just preventing an internal fire that needs to be a priority; it’s externally too. The issue is if combustible materials such as timber or plastic cladding are found close to a boundary (if any still exist). These walls must therefore be fire-resistant to stop fires from spreading to nearby buildings.

One issue you need to consider are the glass in windows, as in order to prevent fire from spreading, it must be fire rated. However, you should not forget that a window represents a means of escape, so once opened, there should be adequate space for a person to climb through.

Access and Facilities for the Fire Service

If a fire has occurred then obviously once you’ve called the fire services, you’ll want them to reach you as quickly as possible. However, you need to ensure the following:

Fire engines must be able to reach the building.

The equipment (eg a hose), must be able to reach the location of where the fire is inside the building.

There must be an adequate supply of water, at the right pressure, available to fight the fire.

This is usually doable in dwellings, but the second point can become more difficult for larger buildings, such as high-rises. In this case, dry risers must be vertically installed on each floor, so that firefighters can connect their equipment and deal with the fire.

Fires can be caused by a range of things, but cigarettes, cooking appliances and electrical items are the most common culprits. Understanding the reasons is one important way to help prevent fires; but you should also ensure that your building (regardless of its use) meets fire safety requirements, so that should one occur, damage is minimised and those inside can reach safety.

Certification and Accreditation

While the industry is full of passive fire companies of varying ranges of competency and experience, the question on your mind is quite possibly ‘how can I ensure I choose the right company to do the job?’. Well, there is something that property owners, builders, estate and facilities managers can do to ensure the passive fire protection systems in their buildings are up to standard – insist on third-party certification.

Accreditation schemes of this sort are available for both products and installers. They were originally developed to drive up safety standards in the industry by ensuring that products were capable of achieving the performance claimed by manufacturers and that they were used in combination and fitted in a way that delivers maximum safety levels.

Look for UKAS accreditation and LPCB certifications.  The UKAS accredited certification bodies undertake multiple tests on products and check factory production methods before signing off items, to help buyers ensure that high-quality protection has been specified. Equally important are the installer schemes that help to make certain that the products are fitted in a way that achieves the required level of fire integrity.

To make certain installers are competent and that their work is of the right quality, certification bodies audit the company’s procedures and processes to confirm the scope of the work they can do under certification. This is backed by regular inspections of work in progress to confirm it is being completed to a standard that provides the maximum level of protection.

Checkmate was among the first companies in the industry to identify the need to drive up standards and were one of the founding members of the BRE / LPCB passive fire protection certification scheme. And our experience of working in this standards-driven environment has been entirely positive; it ensures we deliver systems that provide the highest levels of fire integrity without any negative effect on the end client’s chosen design scheme. In fact, there are even third-party accredited products that were developed to be aesthetically pleasing, such as fire-resistant glazed partition systems.

The third-party certification process works and is valued by building owners and insurers alike, giving them peace of mind that in the event of a fire, there will be time for evacuation plans to be executed and that the damage to their property will be kept to a minimum.

For help and advice or to discuss a current or pending project call us today on 01422 376436 or via the website.