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The Queen’s Speech signals stronger building fire safety

Rarely has such intent been expressed in a Queen’s Speech to bring into law measures to tighten fire safety.

Two bills have been announced:

The first, on building safety, addresses mainly lessons from the 2017 Grenfell fire with commitment to implement the recommendations from the Hackitt Review. The bill sets out to strengthen the whole regulatory regime – which presumably can be taken to include enforcement – for buildings and products. Part is also to give residents a stronger voice. Emphasis will be on responsibility and accountability. Making sure that the right people who make mistakes are brought to book is there and specifically noted.

Where products and building resilience are concerned then levels of performance will be emphasized.

That could, one can imagine, require a re-consideration towards longer resistance times given the uncertainty of fire and the extreme intensities of modern fires, as so
catastrophically shown by Grenfell. This may also mean wider use of barrier materials that are less vulnerable than others to thermal stress and high temperatures characteristic of modern fires.

The second bill, on fire safety, signals intent to implement the recommendations from the Moore Bick Grenfell enquiry. It aims to make sure that another Grenfell never happens again. And it will update the Fire Safety Order (2005).

That’s to include, for example, risk assessments of the façade concerning potential to affect everybody in common.

It’s possible to see that parts of fire safety building design will have to be reviewed, and they may in part mean improved levels of resilience and better assurance that constructions can adequately resist fire.

Much safer buildings will require better protection for occupiers to get out without risks to their lives, with much more time to do so, especially if circumstances determine they become trapped and more vulnerable due to heat and smoke.

More access may be necessary to more resilient sanctuaries than normally provided. Extended protected times to contain fire spread and protect against flames may well be critical. And construction will need to be robust enough to allow that to happen.

This Parliament will be a major one for fire safety in 2020 as the Grenfell enquiry picks up again on 27 January.

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Is fire safety management and fire risk assessment still not working well enough?

Fire safety could not have been more in the public spotlight than has been the case through 2017 to 2019. Arguably Government has not shown a greater level of attention on fire safety since the Great Fire of London in 1666 left 85% of the capital’s population homeless. And authorities could not be more under pressure from growing community awareness of the severe threats that fire poses if more care is not given to fire prevention and protection in practice.

We’ve seen the Expert Panel set up by Government to provide focus on immediate issues as they arise. There has been a Government-sponsored test programme on cladding testing which has led to a major review of BS standards covering facade test methods and procedures. Initial reaction led to combustibility questions which in turn resulted in a blanket requirement for residential blocks over 18 m to only have classified non-combustible materials on external walls. There has also been a major test programme followed through first on plastic-based composite doors, resulting in their removal from the market and major soul searching by the sector.

That was followed by extensive testing of timber fire doors from 25 manufacturers, which proved successful in all respects with good pass results in all cases, several tests indicating very significant safety margins in extended levels of timber fire door performance. We are told that attention has shifted to other types of cladding now under consideration. There has been the major review of fire safety carried out by Dame Judith Hackitt initiated by the Government as an immediate response to concerns arising from preliminary considerations of the Grenfell fire, initiated and completed before the Moore Blick Inquiry had hardly got off the ground.

Now in June 2019 there are major consultations from Government on what amounts to a root-and-branch reform of the regulatory system, following from the Government’s clear statement that they accept all the recommendations from Hackitt, and of the way the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 works in practice. The proposals are extensive; and they require a major cultural re-adjustment towards fire safety as Hackitt concluded necessary at an early stage of the review. Is all this activity producing results? Is the level of attention given to fire safety in practice yet as good as it needs to be given the potential threat from fire? Is there still a belief that in some way “the system will provide” and provisions for protection against fire really don’t need special consideration? Is sufficient notice really being taken in practice to counter the threats of fire?

Especially, are the principles of built-in fire safety protection in the fabric of a building using compartmentation, fire separation and active fire suppression as fully understood as they should be? 2019 has so far seen four major fires in different types of buildings which have all hit the headlines because of the circumstances and extensive destruction in all cases. The Ocado warehouse fire, the Beechmere Retirement Home, the Willenhall hotel and the Samuel Garside residential block fires all suggest that fire can break out in any situation and that buildings remain highly vulnerable to fire unless special measures are taken to limit fire growth, spread and development.

Nobody was injured or killed, miraculously. But chance could so easily have determined otherwise. The buildings were either completely destroyed or substantially damaged. The writing is there on the wall for all to read. We do not want another shock like Grenfell or Lakanal House.

The Hackitt report suggested that the fire safety system for buildings in the UK is broken. Despite all the activity initiated by Government and the warnings from numerous fire safety organisations and individuals, significant improvements will not arise – and the system will remain broken – until conscious positive steps are made in the way buildings are designed, constructed and maintained for protection against fire.

Special measures are necessary. Buildings are not naturally resilient and robust against fire. Particular built-in fire-resistant barriers are needed throughout a building and especially in key critical locations. And not to provide adequate provisions against fire spread can only be a false economy, risking not only major losses but sooner or later, at some point, serious threats to innocent lives.

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Competency is now the key word illustrated both by fire safety reforms and politics.

It isn’t often that headlines in the political sphere and fire safety overlap and become joined by a common theme.  In the USA, the UK Ambassador’s recent reporting back to London is revealed to have apparently expressed disparaging reservations over the White House environment. We are told, not denied by Government, of “unvarnished assessment” touching on effectiveness and functionality, reportedly describing the process as inept, unpredictable and riven by factions. 

Back home, Government might possibly think similar thoughts over the state of the construction industry attention on fire safety. 

Government has said that the shock of the enormity of the deaths in the horrific Grenfell fire has shaken trust.  Their response is a completely new regulatory structure of major reform proposals to effectively re-set fire safety on to new, more rigorous, robust and secure foundations. The extent of the reforms serves to illustrate the depth of concerns.

At the heart of the fire safety reforms, the Ambassador’s assessment and other threads running through the political landscape with its Brexit backdrop is the core concept of Competency (and of course the other side of the coin: incompetency).

But as both the Ambassador’s observations and the immediate instinctive reaction from the President Trump camp well reveal – thoughts on incompetency are subjective, dependent on a particular perspective and set of circumstances interpreted in a particular way.  We tend to recognise, or think we recognise, incompetency more than we would recognise competency, which tends to be automatically assumed and taken for granted. Who, other than for obscure devious means, might set out intentionally to act incompetently? No one.

The Government’s Regulatory Reform puts Competency centre stage.  That’s closely linked with personal Responsibility and Accountability for particular key named individuals in the design, construction and running of buildings.

The regulatory reform proposes an overarching competency council.  The process has started by running twelve working groups to examine competency considerations for some important professional roles, under the Construction Leadership Council which in turn will work with the Industry Safety Steering Group.  

But competency for fire safety is not yet sufficiently well-defined for common buy-in; and not yet explained clearly enough for all to absorb. That is an important first task for the oversight bodies and the new Building Safety Regulator. 

It has yet to be defined clearly enough what is actually meant in practice by competency.

How the competency of a whole industry can be pulled up to higher standards and levels of awareness in certain respects in double quick time is not yet given enough attention.  It is apparently assumed that levels of competency will be self-evaluated and that individuals will make their own honest assessments of what is needed for themselves. It is seemingly presumed by the reform that the right procedures and structures will emerge and that there will be enough competent people out there already to provide the training and development resource that will be needed to bring the whole industry up to common levels defined by acceptable standards (whatever those are ….).  

Above all in a field that is substantially practical the establishment needs to move away from reliance for competency on just academic-style learning.

Fire safety concerns practical matters; and formal training and qualifications through certificates can only take participants to first base. Theory isn’t enough.  Attendance at an information presentation or series of talks in a classroom environment does not magically make somebody completely competent enough in all important respects. Practical skills, know-how and expertise derived from personal and shared experiences are important for competency in fire safety. Personal attitudes are also important: there is no point in having the knowledge and awareness if that is not acted upon and carried out in practice. Understanding should go hand-in-hand with knowledge and experience.

Undoubtedly awareness and knowledge of products and product systems is key for many in the design, specification, procurement, supply and installation networks feeding construction. Above all, assumptions and unfounded decisions must not be made.  

In all cases, those seeking product information should go to the competent product supplier – that is the one who intimately knows and works with the product, knows the technology and importantly has the first-hand proprietary knowledge of the test performance of the product and the key product characteristics that underpin performance, making the product what it is for fire safety.

For ceramic glass there are important characteristics concerning its advantages in providing a long-lived resilient transparent barrier against fire which set it distinctively apart from standard fire-resistant glass. Ceramic has its own properties and key qualities for use in fire.  It is a distinctive material in its own right, with its own characteristics. And assumptions based only on experiences just with standard glass, or only theoretical handed-down explanations, are certainly not in any way sufficient at all to understand how ceramic glass performs in fire. 

FireLite and Sprinkler Systems

Sprinkler reliability makes another splash

Fire safety specialists can often be seen scratching their heads with furrowed brows in frustration and disbelief that sprinklers and other basic fire suppression systems are not more widely adopted in the UK than they currently are. The technology is straightforward. The intention quite fundamental in containing fire, working with compartmentation to limit the chances of early stage fire growth. The aim is to hold fire in check so that the fire and rescue service has time to finish the job of putting the fire out and mopping up.

Why suppression is not more widely adopted is something of a mystery. To reinforce the point, sprinkler advocates are quick at coming forward with reminders of the function and reliability of sprinkler systems based on statistical data, in the main from the USA. It’s all water under the bridge. But several major fires where the building was substantially destroyed have inevitably brought sprinklers back into the headlines.

Up-to-date information points to a high level of sprinkler reliability. A review of data made available suggests 95% operation where sprinklers are present combined with 99% effectiveness, which gives a bottom line overall operational reliability of 94%. Of course, failures are not unknown. It’s wise not to think sprinklers are infallible. That’s why, just like all safety systems, there needs to be back-up should events turn out in a way that was not originally assumed. Fire is notoriously unpredictable. That needs to be reflected in the use of integrated fire safety systems using suppression with effective fire separation barriers.

Of course, hot glass does not like cold water. That has to be a major factor given that modern buildings are so extensively founded on internal transparency and openness using glazing. Standard glass products are notoriously susceptible to thermal stress shock fracture. Failure under even quite mild stresses is likely.

But there is an answer. Fire-resistant ceramic glass is available here in the UK. It is specifically designed in its composition to be immune to thermal stress, with an ability to stay in one piece, untouched, even when covered from top to bottom and side to side with cold water. In testing FireLite has successfully shown resilience when sprayed with water after even 4-hour exposure in a fire-resistance test furnace. Ceramic glass is well known for its resilience to the USA firefighter hosestream test, under the impact of a high pressure full-on cold water stream over the hot exposed surface. Resilience against thermal stress shock is a remarkable property of ceramic glass. And that’s very useful in fire combined with water when confidence and assurance of fire safety – reducing risk to the lowest possible level – is a key requirement.

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Building a Safer Future: Reform of the building fire safety regulatory system – ticking the box and doing the bare minimum is no longer good enough

On 6 June the Government launched a major consultation covering proposals for a new fire safety regulatory regime primarily for high-rise residential blocks as well as consultation on a significant updating of the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO) for occupied non-domestic buildings.

The Government’s intent after all the shocks to fire safety is very clear: enforcement will be tightened and much better compliance achieved by holding named individuals responsible and accountable, subject even to legal process.
The proposals amount to a major revolution in the regulatory regime for fire safety in buildings. Fire safety will not be the same in the future as it has been in the past. The Government is seeking endorsement, but their course is clearly set. They are not asking questions over the structure of the changes – which is effectively fixed – but only on some of the associated finer details.

In May Communities Secretary James Brokenshire had made a clear that the scandal of unsafe fire risk cladding was a matter of Public Safety and could not be tolerated. Now we see the follow-up. There will be a new control system. A new Safety Regulator will be created to monitor, oversee, direct and take action, bringing even criminal charges if necessary. And there will, for sure, be less likelihood than in the past of fire safety not being given the focus that the risks of fire demand.

The main theme in the proposed reform of the building regulatory system is to tighten fire safety by focusing on a whole building and whole process approach concentrated and based on the risks of fire. Better compliance and stronger enforcement are the aims. Named individuals in key roles – for example the person owning and operating the building when occupied, the client for building projects, and key actors in the process such as the Principal Designer and the Principal Contractor – will be named, registered and held responsible and accountable as key recognised duty holders.

The scope concerns at this point high-rise residential buildings (over 18m) concerning new build from the beginning of the approvals and planning process through design to occupation. That’s where the most urgent response is needed. It is also proposed to extend the system to embrace refurbishment as well. But there are pointers in the consultation that the new system will not stop there. Higher risk types of buildings and occupancies are included in the consultation, for both building regulations and the FSO.

It isn’t sensible to have more than one building regulatory regime in action. So the common expectation is that the principles declared in this regulatory reform will come to be applied to all types and functions of buildings covering fire safety.

As paragraph 238 of the reform declares, the Government are considering placing all duty holders under a general duty to promote building safety and the safety of people in and around buildings. A duty is an implicit obligation. And duty holders are expected to be self-aware, to self-evaluate their competencies to discharge their core duties.

The Building a Safer Future consultation proposes that the central Building Safety Regulator (BSR) responsible for the new regime will provide what are referred to as “effective incentives” to those responsible for buildings (including those in responsible roles in the design, supply and build process) “to deliver high standards of safety”.

Those high standards cannot be achieved by just ticking boxes or doing just the bare minimum the reform makes unambiguously clear.

  • A three-step approach is proposed:
  • Reinforcement of operating standards and provision for professional guidance, on an “informal” basis (it is said) to secure compliance. What one could say is “friendly but firm advice”.
  • Proactive (and forceful) intervention and monitoring by the BSR to secure compliance, perhaps involving stop notices or improvement notices: effectively determined policing.

If non-compliance still persists then the Regulator can take formal enforcement action, which can include formal orders, penalties, perhaps revocation of the building safety certificate and even prosecution (which includes mention of criminal offences): a resort to unbending legal action.

A risk-based approach to building safety linked with the aim to develop high standards means that there will need to be a whole range of measures employed to minimise fire hazards and to reduce potential fire risks to manageable and controllable levels.

Clearly different building risk and occupancy profiles need to be countered by packages of fire safety provisions and precautions that are aligned and in accordance with those risks. That’s the central rationale for risk-based design.

Discussions within the fire safety sector are already talking of considering the measures that are necessary for property protection (not currently a main objective of building regulations).

It is natural that building owners and principal designers will now look ever more towards enhanced levels of protection against fire to protect both people and property assets.

The higher standards that come from considering property protection implicitly and automatically lead to higher standards to counter the higher risks from fire to people, especially in large and tall multi-occupancy buildings where escape is not so easy given major fire occurrence either inside or outside and where there is little margin for mistakes and assumptions on what might or might not happen.

Time is critically important in fire. And the threat of rapid fire growth in modern combustible building environments means that secure fire containment linked with effective suppression to minimise fire intensity and spread will become more important. Thoughts naturally lead to the application of sprinklers. And to longer fire resistance times for barriers intended to provide fire compartmentation. For protected escape the minimum standard is to provide 30-minute fire-resistant barriers determined in a furnace standardised test, when exposed to full fire development from one side.

Given the delays and confusions that can so easily arise in complex and congested buildings, 30 minutes is barely enough. In some cases, 60 minutes may be specified, but on a limited basis. But for more intense and longer fire times much longer fire resistance capability enhanced levels of resilience exposure are really required if risks are to be minimised to the lowest possible level.

The new system will be much less tolerant of unwarranted risks being taken with people’s lives.

Much longer robust resistance times are possible. FireLite ceramic because of its nature is effectively immune to thermal stress and has a high melting point well above typical temperatures in developed fire conditions. It has a well-established record of testing for a four hours exposure – retaining a transparent whole barrier, without any significant change. FireLite is also comfortable if sprayed by water from a firefighter hose stream or from an array of sprinklers. It is entirely possible to combine FireLite ceramic with sprinkler arrays to form a water curtain glazed array if designers want to search for the highest levels of assured protection against fire.

If better fire safety and higher standards are the aim now as this building regulatory reform intends, then the designer needs to look further afield than just on the standard minimum provisions that have come to be regarded as all that is necessary. If they do look further afield, then the designers and specifiers will find that there are solutions there, available to provide enhanced levels of fire-resistant protection against fire up to and including four hours under furnace test conditions of robust resistance using resilient ceramic glass which remains unchanged under aggressive fire conditions.

Burning Wood In The Furnace

Research reveals many architects don’t fully understand passive fire protection

New research reveals many architects don’t fully understand passive fire protection and fire resistance. Only 8% are reported to be able to correctly define four key fire safety terms, including fundamental concepts that should underpin basic fire safety design.

In its April edition Fire magazine featured a study commissioned by fire retardant technology company Zeroignition which has revealed that architects have amazing gaps in their knowledge base on fire safety. Architects were asked about their understanding of active fire protection, passive fire protection, reaction to fire and fire resistance terms. But 92% apparently failed to satisfy researchers that their understanding was complete – when the result should have been that nobody had any real doubts since all four requirements taken together are key in designing and building for fire safety.

Fire resistance is a key property of passive fire protection systems and it shouldn’t be possible to design modern buildings in compliance with building regulations if there isn’t a grasp of what fire resistance is all about. Fire resistance fundamentally means the ability of a product system and elements of construction, including those systems, to prevent the passage of fire from one side to the other.

Fire resistance therefore fundamentally contains the concept of fire containment, i.e. preventing the movement and development of fire away from and beyond the boundaries of the place where it first breaks out. Compartmentation is a basic fire design concept and that cannot be achieved without the use of fire-resistant passive fire protection barriers to contain fire.

It is really difficult to understand how a sample of architects can be so apparently lacking in their appreciation of what are fundamental principles for protecting buildings and people against fire. Yet 71% were found to admit to not understanding fire resistance.
A basic requirement of fire resistance is referred to as integrity. That requires the fire-resistant barrier to significantly prevent the physical passage of fire through the barrier, from one side to the other. To do that the barrier needs to stay in one piece, without catastrophic collapse and without cracking up to allow the passage of flames or hot ignitable fumes from the fire.

To do that requires special properties: not only resilience against thermal shock and thermal stress but also an ability not to soften and melt as heat builds up over time, or if the local fire load leads to a high intensity fire.
Fire resistance is a property established against prescribed pass/fail criteria by evaluation in standard tests by building the fire-resistant barrier into one wall of a gas or oil-fired furnace. The temperature-time profile is an internationally agreed standard, designed many years ago to represent a particular developed post-flashover fire condition. The test is carried out for set time periods to allow product and system classification. Those classification times are from 30 minutes minimum, up to 4 hours (i.e. 30, 60, 90, 120 and 240 minutes). Test temperatures approach 840 deg C after 30 minutes, rising gradually to around 1150 deg C after 4 hours (with high levels of heat build-up during the time of continuous heating).

Ceramic Glass Limited has been involved in fire safety since 1982 as a dedicated supplier of integrity fire-resistant ceramic glass FireLite. As a transparent ceramic FireLite has ideal properties to perform as a robust resilient barrier against fire. It has a softening point above typical flashover maximum temperatures in building fires and is specifically designed to be immune to thermal stress (as a result of an effective zero thermal expansion coefficient that avoids significant thermal stress generation).

FireLite is therefore ideal for use as vision panels and glazed screens. Use as an integrity barrier in external glazing can also be effective in preventing fire break-out and break back in for tall buildings should fire spread up the outside of the façade. It has the core property of being able to survive in tests for longer than 4 hours, even resisting without change the impact of a cold-water hose stream at the end of 4 hours exposure to demonstrate effective resilience against thermal shock and stress.

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Does today’s architecture need to reconnect with fire safety?

A major intent of Government is to implement the recommendations of the Hackitt Review which was set up as an immediate reaction to the Grenfell catastrophe. The report especially suggests attention on building products and systems as well as on designs and details of building work. Hackitt emphasizes the need for a fundamental change in culture. In effect that means a re-balancing of priorities with a re-setting of objectives, with much more of a focus on fire safety in construction. 

The fire safety sector for some time before and especially since the Lakanal House fire in 2009 has raised concerns over modern methods of construction and new building materials and systems that are less resilient in fire than traditional materials and constructions.  

The Fire Futures Review in 2010 for the coalition government made clear in its built environment report that trends towards lighter and less robust building structures presented a slide towards higher fire risks if not countered by responses in the wider use of effective combined fire protection systems. 

And a poll of members of the Fire Sector Federation (FSF) at the time made clear a consensus for re-vamping guidance in Approved Document B (AD B) to better reflect modern building methods and materials. Today’s buildings were seen to be relatively more sensitive to the outbreak of fire.

But that call was not picked up by Government until after Grenfell. When the request for input to the AD B review agenda was made in Feb 2019 Government referred to the potential difficulties from higher levels of building insulation which could lead to more intense fires.  There have also been concerns often expressed over higher levels of combustibility, especially where the levels of compartmentation are less robust and building structures less protected by fire stopping against penetration and spread through internal and external constructions.  

A factor in the development of more highly insulated structures has been the dominance of energy-efficient and more sustainable building designs, in response to global climate change and the carbon footprint of materials that has come to be such an important environmental concern. Concrete is the second most used substance in the global economy after water, a major element in today’s buildings, but also one of the world’s biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions mainly because of its cement component and the sheer mass of material used on a world scale.  

Concerns over the wider environmental impact of concrete is reported to be causing designers to think more in terms of sustainable timber as a structural material, including in high rise residential buildings (The Guardian, 29 Feb 2019).  In countries where timber is more recognised as a customary building material (such as Norway, Canada and Japan) there are already advanced plans on projects that are between 14 and 18 storeys based on engineered timber beam structural elements. It should not be ignored that timber-based constructions are likely to be relatively higher risk in fire than concrete buildings. That in turn should lead to equally advanced thinking on the use of available fire safety design measures.

Novelty and originality in building should not be stifled. Innovations and advanced concepts are important generators for economic growth.  But it should be clear that creativity in building design needs to be progressed in step with the optimum use of the robust fire safety products and technologies that are already available – for longer resilience and better integrity containment for several hours to protect structures against intense fires, so that new risks can be more effectively countered and neutralised. 

It isn’t appropriate to design buildings for the mid-21st century city environment using outdated and limited fire safety concepts.  Modern design needs to be integrated with the best of available fire safety solutions. In that respect, as Hackitt suggests, fire safety has some catching up to do. But it shouldn’t be necessary for architectural design simply to go back to the stone age. 

School 1

What will BREXIT mean for glass and glazing standards?

Will BREXIT require a re-think for products in relation to CE Marking and EN standards? Will there be change? Or is the best policy, perhaps, to keep calm and carry on? What does No Deal mean?

Few in the current fevered political environment have in mind what happens in a post-Brexit UK to the suite of glass and glazing standards originating under the CPR. The glass and glazing standards have been very well established for around 20 years, after what was a long gestation period of diligent standardisation work in which the UK industry took such a prominent leading role. Will Brexit bring problems? Or can we just follow on, still dancing to the EN tune?                                                                                

One sure aspect of BREXIT is that very little is actually nailed down. Nothing is certain relating to possible consequences and outcomes. Politicians have wandered into a political morass and are now going about in increasingly smaller circles trying to find a way out to firmer ground. We won’t know in many areas what the implications are until events start to unfold after the UK leaves.

Even when leaving is finally settled, we still cannot be entirely confident what will emerge as a result. Uncertainty rules, OK?  There is a hope that the implications will not mean a re-working of all the product standards that now provide such a firm basis for glass and glazing products in the UK.

It is useful to recall the origin for those glass and glazing standards – the background history is important

The standards come from the Single Market, determined by processes under the Construction Products regulation (the CPR) subject to the original EU Treaties, originating way back from the Single European Act, in Margaret Thatcher’s day, to establish the single market by 1992. The Act came into force in 1987, under the Delors Commission.  Before the stimulation provided by the European single market process there were no BS glass and glazing product standards in the UK.

A fundamental requirement by treaty is the free movement of goods without technical barriers to trade within the EU. That requires what is described as a common technical language, captured by harmonised European Norms (hEN’s) that allow the definition of product types and classification according to key properties and characteristics.   

First came the Construction Products Directive in 1988, finally leading to a new regulation of the European Parliament 305/2011 known as the CPR (The Construction Products Regulation). The CPR made CE marking obligatory for qualifying products available for sale and placed on the EU market (i.e. those which are covered by an appropriate product harmonised standard, hEN).  

On that count there is perhaps not cause to worry unduly. It seems BSI will remain part of the European standards club – at least as far as we can see, at the moment, until things settle down further.

BSI has announced that they have been accepted to continue as a full member of CEN in transition to BREXIT until the end of 2020. How membership continues beyond the interim period is not yet clear: CEN membership rules require the national bodies to come from countries that are either EU or EFTA members. The UK looks likely to be in neither camp.

As a member of the standards club, the UK represented by BSI will be able to continue using the BS EN standards that have already been developed. The consequences of not being able to continue with those standards is horrific to contemplate. They have all been developed over many years, involving a very high level of work in various European and UK standards forums, for many industry people. It would take years to go over that work again, to replace the BS EN’s with original new BS’s. It is fundamentally important to keep the British Standards for products, testing and performance classification that are available from adopted EN standards.  

When standards have to be updated, or new standards developed, the future ability to be as fully engaged in the standardisation process is less clear and somewhat hazy.  

Hopefully the deadlock intransigence to agree will not spill over into standardisation, where there has been harmony. But the UK may find itself not as welcome in European Forums as it has been in the past.  Voting rights might not be the same. And it would be an unwelcome outcome if UK industry should not be as influential as it has been in the past.

Conformity with the EN standards is shown by the CE Mark, the only mark acceptable for compliance with the CPR Single Market process.  If the UK is no longer part of the EU Single Community Market – by definition, beyond the CPR – then it’s obvious that the CE Mark can no longer hold sway in the UK. Government has suggested an answer. There are optimistic noises and the mood at least in this respect, can be said to be somewhat upbeat.

If the UK crashes out on a No Deal basis then the Government has said that goods already on the market that meet EU CE mark requirements can still legitimately be placed on the UK market in the same way. Current arrangements are expected to have force through a new UK mark, the CA Mark (i.e. Conformity Assessed). The stated policy intention is that new UK rules will mirror the EU rulebook. That at least is the anticipated position when the starter gun goes off.

But this is to be time-limited. Products tested by a UK-notified body under CPR procedures will no longer be able to be placed on the EU market without re-testing and re-marking by a EU-recognised conformity assessment body. A UK-based organisation cannot be a new EU notified body. UK bodies notified under the CPR will be granted new UK Government approved body status, Government has said. And those organisations will be able to assess products for the UK market against UK essential requirements (which are naturally expected most likely to mirror EU essential requirements).  

All this scenario comes under the heading “We hope; and expect.” But there are many BIG influential issues to be resolved yet.  The best policy in the absence of anything more definite does seem to be to keep calm and carry on.  But don’t be surprised if there should be unforeseen consequences and disruptive unwelcome outcomes.

Ceramic Glass Limited has been involved in fire safety since 1982 as a dedicated supplier of ceramic glass.  The prime product ranges are FireLite as fire-resistant and thermal shock resilient glazing (such as fire doors and glazed screens), and heat-resistant NeoCeram for all types of heating stoves, both traditional and new modern designs.  We stock the entire range at our modern factory in Loughborough and can provide cut sizes as required, with quick response and short lead times. Please contact sales@ceramicglass.co.uk or Michael Bye on 01509 273970 for personal attention.  Check out our products on www.ceramicglass.co.uk . Please talk to us about applications.

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£200m fund provided by the Government to stimulate work on towers at risk due to fire safety

Residents in private blocks of flats have finally receive Government support, with a £200 million fund at last provided by the Government to stimulate work on towers at risk because of fire safety.

The Communities Secretary has finally made a clear statement that the scandal of unsafe fire risk cladding is a matter of Public Safety. In a major statement to Parliament on 9 May 2019 James Brokenshire announced a Government fund of £200 million to help remove and replace dangerous Grenfell-type cladding and insulation on the many residential towers under private ownership that are still considered at risk, almost 2 years’ after the Grenfell Tower fire.

There are many in the fire safety sector and in the residential and social housing sector who have been frustrated by the extended time it has taken for proper recognition of the serious situation faced by residents in tall residential towers who are challenged daily by thoughts on the fire risks that exist in external cladding materials of the Grenfell-type identified as a serious fire safety threat.  

Building owners and freeholders responsible for the buildings have failed in many cases to take action. James Brokenshire praised those that had.  But he focused clear criticism on those who had tried to shift financial responsibility unfairly on to innocent residents, who found themselves faced by unaffordable high remediation bills offloaded on to them through no fault of their own. The Minister said that too many owners had failed to take responsibility.  Now the Government has been forced to act, by providing a starter fund (from existing budgets) to remove the block on improvement work going forward.

The message from the Minister is clear.  The Government is “looking at measures to get building owners and developers to do the right thing.”  But the Minister has said that the fund should not be taken to absolve the wider construction industry from taking responsibility for high-risk materials being put on the outside of buildings which have been shown to be highly combustible, infringing building regulatory guidance to limit the chances of external fire spread ( Regulation B4 for England and Wales).  

This isn’t intended to be a free handout without strings.

Receiving money is conditional upon the building owner or responsible person in their stead agreeing a contract to start remediation work within a set period (not defined, however). Owners have three months to apply for funds.  And Government have said that they will look carefully at further steps where owners still fail to take action.

A condition of funding is that the building owner takes “reasonable steps to recover costs from those responsible for the presence of unsafe cladding” in the first place (from the Ministry’s press release). Clearly, this matter will not be allowed to rest. And as the Parliamentary session showed, there are several MP’s from all sides on the case to monitor progress and hold government to account.

Government records that work has yet to start on 166 private high-rise buildings (above 18m tall) to remove and replace at risk cladding and insulation materials.  That compares with 23 still in the public sector. Work on only 10 private residential blocks has been carried out in the last two years since Grenfell. The Government is already funding substantial work in the public local authority sector, by providing a further £400 million previously announced.

That’s £600 million in total, a significant commitment to underline the importance of fire safety.  At last there is a well-defined Government purpose, with evident intent.

433 buildings were originally identified as having unsafe cladding of the Grenfell type. There are questions over other cladding types as well, also under suspicion and to be evaluated in a new government test programme.  That illustrates the shocking scale of the issue, reflecting how low consideration for fire safety had been allowed to slip down the priority list in construction and design.

What are the overall signals for fire safety arising from the Government’s statements?

Personal responsibility cannot be evaded and simply passed on down the chain from one operator to another.  Fire safety means using products and installations that are robust and reliable in fire. The message is: Don’t take unreasonable risks.  Be sure about product capability to survive and last in fire, demonstrated from test evidence. Taking responsibility is fundamentally important.  That personal responsibility applies to anyone designing, specifying, approving and providing products with a claimed performance in fire. It cannot be simply sub-contracted on down the line to others. Fire safety is a matter of public safety, and several in practice have a responsibility to ensure that products, designs and constructions are actually in practice fit for the intended purpose.  

Building owners, developers and their representatives cannot evade their fundamental obligations.  As Justine Greening MP said in the Parliamentary Questions, as recorded by Hansard, “while those owners are quite happy to take the gains that come from owning a building, they must also take the responsibilities that it brings.”  

In summing up the Minister would note for everyone that fire safety ultimately in compliance with regulations is a requirement to be fulfilled under the Law. That should be sufficient reminder.

Ceramic Glass Limited has been involved in fire safety since 1982 as a dedicated supplier of integrity fire-resistant ceramic glass FireLite.  As a transparent ceramic FireLite has ideal properties to perform as a robust resilient barrier against fire. It has a softening point above typical flashover maximum temperatures in building fires and is specifically designed to be immune to thermal stress (as a result of an effective zero thermal expansion coefficient that avoids significant thermal stress generation).

FireLite is therefore ideal for use as fire-resistant barrier glazing.  Used in external glazing, the effective integrity performance can be effective in preventing fire break-out and break back in for tall buildings should fire spread up the outside of the façade. FireLite has the core property of being able to survive in fire resistance tests for longer than 4 hours, even resisting without change the impact of a cold-water hose stream at the end of 4 hours exposure to demonstrate effective resilience against thermal shock and stress.

11

Stay-put policy causes deep division and disputes in professional fire safety circles

One of the core principles at the heart of firefighting policy for dealing with fire in high-rise residential and more complex buildings has come under the spotlight because of concerns over what is best for the safety of residents. What is described as stay-put has been a core principle for many years but now it is being questioned. With that, comes questions over other fire safety measures.
It is common sense and instinctive to many that when aware of fire, simply get out. The psychological reaction to stress and threat is commonly described as either fight or flight. In fire, which can develop and move quickly, the immediate response is flight, get to a place of safety and stay out. 

That’s an understandable reaction. Yet common advice from the Fire Service for those in high-rise blocks and similar high occupancy complex buildings where there is no immediate fire safety supervision, is for occupants to stay where they are if they are aware of fire but not immediately affected by flames, smoke or heat. It’s counter intuitive. But that is the long-standing advice.

The Stay-Put Policy

If there is fire inside your flat then alert everybody in the flat, leave (immediately) and close all doors. Follow a pre-determined escape plan. If there is a lot of smoke in the flat and escape ways, then crawl along the floor where air should be clearer and temperature less hot. Always use the stairs, not a lift. Call 999 when in a safe place. If there is fire elsewhere in the building then you are usually safer to stay in your flat, unless the heat and smoke is affecting you. If you “stay put” then you should still immediately call 999 for advice, and to ensure that fire and rescue and other emergency crews have been notified. Advice can and does change depending on circumstances.
 Advice from The National Fire Chiefs’ Council (NFCC).

From the point of view of the fire and rescue services, there are some practical considerations. 

The underlying, implicit assumption is that the fire safety measures in the building – predominantly the compartmentation structure of the building perhaps combined with suppression systems – will keep the fire small and manageable and in the place where it breaks out. It is also assumed that the detection and alarm systems will work to give the earliest possible alert for fast response. 

Although internal compartmentation barriers may be in place horizontally and vertically, what can be forgotten however, is that the external wall with windows is not usually a compartment wall. Fire can break out. Yet robust fire-resistant integrity glazing can be used to prevent glass failure and limit the chances of flame spread outside, up and along the façade. Ceramic glass can easily resist thermal stress; and has been tested to endurance times of more than 4 hours, even with hose stream impact.

The fire service needs to get to the fire as quickly as possible to deal with it as easily as possible. They don’t want panic in the building with everybody trying to leave, all at the same time.

“Stay put” also means staying aware and keeping in touch with the emergency telephone contacts. It may mean perhaps making emergency decisions to leave when conditions become uncomfortable, especially when firefighters are able to assist. Fire of course is dynamic and circumstances can change on the ground very quickly. Conditions for safe escape may very quickly change as well.

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