Senior Engineer, Fawaz Hashim explains how the fire safety of a building structure, its surroundings, and its occupants should be considered the most important priority at the design stage.
The Greater Goal in Building Design – Fire Safety
All our daily activities are undertaken with certain intentions, and one very common, unifying intention is to reside, work or play in a structure or environment that is safe from all fire hazards. Various elements play a part in ensuring this intention is upheld, like standards, codes, and national regulations; but in terms of the key stakeholders involved in achieving this greater goal, product and system manufacturers are at the forefront. Manufacturers concentrate on the chemical compositions or the manufacturing procedures that play a role in the product or system’s performance in a fire scenario. Likewise, all stakeholders bring different competencies to the table to ensure the final objective is achieved, and it’s important everyone works together to realize the greater goal of fire safety.
Data Analysis and Certification
Following the manufacturer’s initial development, the next step is ensuring a product or system meets fire safety requirements. If they deem the product satisfies the fire safety requirements stated in a code or an approval document, they must have their research and development information verified through a fire test. There are several standards around the world, released by organizations such as ASTM, NFPA, UL, ISO, CEN, etc., that provide procedures and guidelines for fire testing.
Each standard will have a fire scenario that is utilized; either a pressurized environment, as you would see in a fire resistance test of a compartmentalized element, or the evaluation of a product’s reaction to fire or temperature. The data provided by these tests either validates the manufacturer’s R&D, or the products or systems are found to underperform. The latter means they take their product design back to the drawing board, where they would re-design the composition to ensure it complied with the relevant test standard.
The next step in the process is attaining quality, performance and reliability assurance through a third-party certification body. A manufacturer can design a product and have it successfully tested to prove the fire rating, but this does not necessarily gain the trust of the end user. To achieve this, the manufacturer would approach a certification body like Warringtonfire to visit their facility, select samples for testing from a random lot, and audit their factory production control. Following a successful fire test of the selected sample, the factory and its specific production procedure for that product or system would be certified to produce a fire rated product.
Paths to Approval
Testing and Certification
There are several processes a manufacturer or an approving authority can utilize when it comes to ensuring the fire safety of a product or a system.
For individual components of a product, one of the most extensively used and recognized approval processes are the EN 13501-1 classification. Classification requirements listed in this process depend on the reaction of the product to ignitability, combustibility, and heat release rates.
Following the successful completion of the product classification test, the manufacturer or the approval authority could opt for one of the system tests based on the end usage of the product.
Not all end users are aware of the testing and certifications that happen on a product’s route to market, or of the standards and regulations the products adhere to. Awareness campaigns and further education about the importance of these processes are ongoing, as it’s crucial that there is buy-in from all parties involved in a product’s life cycle. And it’s especially important to ensure people understand the risks and don’t cut corners.
In some situations, a developer may become aware of the non-compliance of their property or structure after design is complete or the build is in progress. In this instance, it is not realistic to expect the structure to be stripped or rebuilt from scratch. Instead, a tool called the “Technical Assessments or Engineering Judgements” may prove to be useful.
This is where a competent team analyses the information provided to evaluate the contribution of each component in the built system to quantify the possible fire risk posed. If the team is satisfied with the initial evaluation of the components and the overall build, they would prepare an assessment report for the product or system. Alternatively, if the team feels that an assessment of the built system would not justify the greater goal, they would suggest a fire test be conducted on the actual built system on site.
The fire safety of a building structure, its surroundings, and its occupants should be considered the most important priority at the design stage, and the components that go into the building, internally or externally, should be considered with a great deal of care and attention. We are currently seeing a trend where the fire safety aspects of a project are only considered once the project is nearing completion. This has to change, and a collective approach to the greater goal must be implemented.
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