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Last edited 30 Sep 2021
Ensuring safety through sufficient fire specification
The release of the Draft Building Safety Bill is set to make the biggest changes to safety in 40 years through improving regulations to aid the built environment sector. The bill will help achieve a clearer and more consistent system that ensures individuals’ safety remains the priority, not only throughout the initial construction process but the entire lifecycle of the building.
The initial Hackitt Report revealed significant concerns surrounding the quality assurance of fire doors, particularly with regard to the certification of these components and the lack of available corresponding building information.
In 2020, an investigation from Inside Housing into the replacement of faulty fire doors by councils across the UK found that across 98 councils, around 10% (approximately 33,000 fire doors) were unlikely to satisfy the 30-minute standard.
While research such as this demonstrates just how far the built environment sector still has to go with regard to fire safety, the release of the Draft Building Safety Bill, along with the initial Hackitt Report and subsequent amendments to Building Regulations Approved Document B (Fire Safety), marks the first significant step in helping the sector to achieve a safer and more transparent environment for individuals to live and work within.
Dame Hackitt’s speech at the Construction Leaders’ Summit for the National Building Specification further addressed the need for an alternative approach throughout all stages of the design, procurement and build phases to deliver buildings that are both safe and sustainable.
The ongoing maintenance of these buildings and the components installed throughout them is therefore a significant factor, which will be addressed within the associated consultation of the Draft Building Safety Bill, which aims to strengthen fire safety in all regulated buildings of all heights throughout England.
While the actual application of the revised regulations and guidance may take until 2023 to become a legal requirement, as part of the implementation of the Building a Safer Future consultation, Dame Hackitt has highlighted the importance for senior figures to adopt a ‘change of culture’ throughout each aspect of their construction practices. This change in behaviour will ensure the buildings they develop are suitable throughout their entire lifecycle and includes increased accountabilities during the design and development stage, as well as the position of an accountable person for the ongoing management of multiple occupancy dwellings.
In order to successfully meet the requirements outlined within this guidance, professionals should take a proactive approach to the specification of passive fire safety components by selecting building products that supersede current industry standards and are supported by third party certified performance test credentials.
This includes having a clear understanding of the fire testing each product has undergone and the legislations it complies with. With specific regard to steel riser doors, professionals should specify solutions that have been fire tested to BS EN 1634-1:2014+A1:2018 or BS 476 part 22, as outlined in Annex C of Approved Document B Volume 2.
Where designated, the doors should also comply with BS 476-31.1 for smoke tests, BS 8214 for the installation for fire doorsets and should be specified and installed in accordance with BS 9999:2017 for the code of practice for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings.
As the release of the Draft Building Safety Bill looks to ensure buildings are fit for purpose throughout their entire lifecycle by creating a new regime for ensuring the safety of residential buildings in England, built environment professionals should specify solutions that not only adhere to current regulations, but successfully futureproof a building. This ensures compliance with upcoming regulations whilst simultaneously meeting the specific requirements of each individual working or living within that building.
This also ties directly into the ‘golden thread’ of information outlined within the Hackitt Report, with test certifications providing the necessary information to not only provide a transparent, digital trail of due diligence, but successfully communicate key information about a building and the components utilised throughout its construction to all relevant individuals.
Here professionals should look to work with manufacturers that provide comprehensive BIM objects, along with corresponding digital data and certifications to ensure they obtain the necessary comparable product data. This not only ensures correct specification, but also supports the ‘golden thread’ of building information by providing a clear trail of digital information that can be referenced and referred to throughout the entire construction process.
This also achieves collaboration between each individual involved in the design and construction processes, to not only deliver a safe and sufficient building, but to subsequently ensure its long-term safety and suitability for all individuals. The importance to achieve this successful communication and cooperation between all firms working across every aspect of a development is an integral part of Dame Hackitt’s vision for building a safer future.
With regard to riser doors in particular, building professionals should look to specify bi-directionally fire tested models as the certifications successfully document the prevention of the spread of fire throughout a multistorey building, regardless of which direction/location the fire starts in. This also evidences compliance with the test exposure from both sides as required by ADB, in addition to the asymmetrical clauses of BS EN 1634-1.
Because the riser doors are physically tested in both directions, it provides the confidence the integrity of the door will adequately withstand exposure to fire and smoke from both directions for the stated time period, eliminating the possibility for fire to enter or exit the riser shaft, limiting the potential spread of fire throughout the entire building.
Specifying products including fire doors that have been third party tested by a certified provider will also further enhance the ‘golden thread’ of information, as it provides a clear trail of evidence that ensures the passive fire product complies with all current legislations, whilst also going above and beyond in terms of best practice.
The certification of fire doors by an accredited third party, rather than being tested by the manufacturer themselves, also provides architects and their clients with the highest standards of confidence and assurance the doors will not fail in the event of a fire. This is supported by comprehensive test documentation that physically proves the suitability and performance of the doors, not only for the outlined duration, but throughout every stage of the manufacturing process.
This is because third party testers are involved throughout the entire construction process to ensure manufacturers implement appropriate measures that maintain manufacturing consistency and that the products tested are a true representative of production. This subsequently provides building professionals and their clients with unbiased reassurance that each riser door specified is of the highest quality and offers unrivalled levels of performance.
While bi-directional fire testing isn’t a current industry requirement, professionals can face unlimited fines if the products specified fail to meet the standards legally required. To avoid this and ensure all potential risks are successfully mitigated against, individuals must demonstrate all reasonable steps have been taken during the specification process by choosing certified products that have comprehensive evidence.
This includes the documentation produced by third party fire bi-directional testing, which not only ensures both exposure faces where the ADB and associated standards require it, but reflects the principles of the Draft Building Safety Bill to help ensure a building will deliver, and continue to deliver, the highest standards in fire safety.
The proposed framework being promoted by Dame Hackitt and the building safety regulator highlights the importance not only of successful specification at the very beginning of a construction project, but the necessity for collaboration between all key manufacturers, suppliers and contractors to facilitate a change in behaviour that places safety at the very forefront of all construction practices and approaches for the full lifecycle of the building.
As part of their combined commitment to improve and legitimise the testing, certification and installation of riser doors, Profab Access and the Finishes & Interiors Sector are working closely to develop comprehensive guidance for industry professionals. This includes installation guides that recommend best practices and methods for the correct installation of riser doors, whilst also providing clarification on testing requirements for riser doors to ensure legal compliance, whilst also raising awareness of the significant importance of third party independent fire testing certification.
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