Simon Ince

Project Engineer, UL

June 19, 2019

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Fire stopping

Passive fire protection gone wrong: How housing providers can provide quality assurance

Following the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in London in 2017, many housing providers are working hard to ensure their housing stock is safe.

Because the Grenfell Tower fire spread so quickly externally, cladding has been one of the main focuses of concern. As a result, the UK Government committed £200 million to fund the removal and replacement of cladding of a similar type to that installed on Grenfell Tower.

Another issue arising from the Grenfell Tower fire and the previous Lakanal House fire in 2009, was the suitability of a ‘stay put’ policy. A policy which is commonly adopted for purpose-built residential properties in the U.K.

There are several essential requirements that must be in place for a stay put policy to be appropriate. One such requirement is appropriate fire compartmentation of all flats to prevent the spread of fire from one flat to another and from the flat of the fire’s origin to the common means of escape.

Containing the fire within the flat where the fire started for a reasonable length of time, is absolutely essential for stay put to be viable as a strategy. Therefore many housing providers have been conducting invasive fire risk assessment surveys of their building stock  to find evidence that the quality of fire protection within their properties is suitable to support a stay put policy.

Sadly, the evidence in the majority of housing stock cases is that they are not compartmentalised up to the required quality to support a stay put fire policy.

In the majority of buildings with fire protection concerns, the problem is with service penetrations passing through fire resistant walls, ceilings and floors, which have not been fire stopped or which have been fire stopped incorrectly. Either the fire stopping material used is incorrect or where the correct product has been used, the installation has not been done correctly.

Figure 1 shows no fire stopping of a pipe penetrating through a fire resistant  ceiling, whilst Figure 2 shows poor use of intumescent mastic on a large bundle of cables through a fire resistant ceiling. Figure 3 shows the incorrect use of fire-rated foam to fire stop service penetrations through a compartment wall.

Figure 1

Figure 2

 

Figure 3

With so many fire protection issues identified during fire risk assessments, there is a tremendous push to get the issues remediated. With large numbers of housing providers all finding the same issues, there is a real demand on fire protection installation companies.

Most housing providers are looking to protect themselves from future legacy issues and their implications. Therefore, many are appointing third-party certificated installers, to use certified products to secure and fire-proof all floor and wall openings. However, there are only so many certificated companies available, and inevitably some housing providers are using uncertificated companies to complete the work.

Cost is still a driver for many housing providers, and this is reflected in tenders.  With narrow margins there is an increased risk of some of the problems that have caused fire protection legacy issues reoccurring during remedial projects.

  • Product substitution: Cheaper products being used
  • Unskilled labour: Cheaper, unskilled employees installing fire protection materials
  • Time pressures: The quicker the project is completed, the more profit there is or less money is lost on the job.

Therefore, housing providers need to check that the quality of the fire stopping is ensured to fit the purpose.

One quality assurance measure that can be employed is to have an internal clerk of works  who is knowledgeable about the selection of products for fire stopping and the requirements for correct installation of those products. Sample inspections from either an employee or a sub-consultant can act as a safety net for housing providers for remedial fire stopping projects.

Upskilling employees through attendance of training courses, such as the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) Level 2 and 3 courses in passive fire protection, provide the required knowledge and confidence to challenge on-site contractors (http://asfp.org.uk/training/). Having an independent passive fire protection inspection body audit the project will provide additional assurances. In conjunction with observations, it is essential that data checks are completed on the products used and on the fire protection installations as viewed on site. The observations should be checking whether the correct product has been used and whether it is being installed correctly, in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidance.

To ensure the system installed is fit for purpose, the manufacturer’s guidance should be checked against the primary test evidence, i.e., whether the product has test evidence to support the on-site application.

Interpreting test evidence and comparing it against the manufacturer’s guidance is a skilled job; however, it needs to be done on a sample basis, where third-party certification of the contractors is not used as a due diligence measure by the housing provider.

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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