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Testing Times

01 October 2020

Publication of the draft Building Safety Bill signals the biggest changes to fire safety in 40 years through improved regulations designed to aid the construction industry. Here, Mick Hill explores the importance of providing a ‘golden thread’ of building information by specifying components (including bi-directionally fire-tested riser doors) that offer the highest standards in terms of compliance and performance

THE DRAFT Building Safety Bill is designed to assist in achieving a clearer and more consistent construction system that ensures individuals’ safety remains the priority, not only throughout the initial build process, but also the entire lifecycle of a given building.

The initial report from Dame Judith Hackitt revealed significant concerns surrounding the quality assurance of fire doors, for example, and particularly so with regards to the certification of these essential components and the lack of available corresponding building information.

Just last year, an investigation conducted by Inside Housing into the replacement of faulty fire doors by councils across the UK found that, of the 98 councils surveyed, around 10% (approximately 33,000 fire doors) were unlikely to satisfy the 30-minute standard.

Damning results

Each year, the essential Fire Door Safety Week campaign is expertly managed by the British Woodworking Federation and actively supported by a number of partners, among them the Home Office’s National Fire Safety campaign, the National Fire Chiefs Council and the London Fire Brigade.

The 2020 campaign ran from Monday 21 until Sunday 27 September. This time around, the organisers shared the results of similar research into the state of fire door maintenance, inspection and replacement programmes across local authority-owned and managed housing in the UK. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t make for particularly pretty reading.

Over half (52%, in fact) of local authorities responding to a Freedom of Information request have reported delays to planned fire door maintenance and replacement in the first half of 2020. That number rises to 60% when inspection delays are also brought into the equation.

According to the data obtained from 147 local authorities that own and manage their own housing stock, at least 26,318 fire doors were scheduled for maintenance or replacement between January and June, but 16,580 didn’t see any progress. This means that 63% of individual planned works were delayed until at least the second half of the year, thereby directly affecting a minimum of 9,954 individual properties.

In addition to delays to maintenance and replacement in the first half of the year, 31% of all responding local authorities stated that their fire door inspection programmes were delayed, in turn impacting at least 12,596 fire doors.

While research such as this demonstrates just how far the construction industry still has to go when it comes to fire safety, the release of the draft Building Safety Bill, along with the initial report from Dame Judith Hackitt and subsequent amendments to Building Regulations Approved Document B referencing fire safety, marks the first significant step towards helping the sector to achieve a safer and more transparent environment in which individuals can reside and work.

Ongoing maintenance

The ongoing maintenance of specific building types and the components installed throughout them is also a significant factor which will be addressed within the parallel consultation relating to the draft Building Safety Bill. In essence, the latter 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 a while to come into force, this development marks the start of the implementation of the ‘Building a Safer Future’ consultation. This includes increased accountabilities during the design and development stage, as well as the appointment of an ‘accountable person’ for the ongoing management of multiple occupancy dwellings.

In order to successfully meet the requirements outlined within the new guidance, fire professionals should take a proactive approach towards the specification of passive fire safety components by selecting building products that supersede current industry standards and are supported by certified performance test credentials. This includes having a clear understanding of the fire testing procedures each product has undergone and the legislation with which it complies.

With a specific focus on steel riser doors, architects 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 and BS 8214 for the installation of fire door sets and should also be specified and installed in accordance with BS 9999:2017, the Code of Practice for Fire Safety in the Design, Management and Use of Buildings.

Fit for purpose

As the release of the draft Building Safety Bill looks to ensure buildings are fit for purpose throughout their entire lifecycle, architects should specify solutions that not only adhere to current regulations, but successfully future-proof a building as well. This ensures compliance with upcoming regulations, while 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 architects with the necessary information to not only provide a transparent trail of due diligence, but also successfully communicate key information about a building and the components used throughout its construction to all relevant individuals.

When paying attention to riser doors in particular, architects should look to specify bi-directionally fire-tested models as the certifications successfully document the prevention of the spread of fire throughout a multi-storey building, regardless of the location in which the fire starts and in which direction it develops. This also evidences compliance with the test exposure from both sides as required by Approved Document B, in addition to the asymmetrical clauses of BS EN 1634-1.

As the riser doors are physically tested in both directions, this engenders confidence that the integrity of the door will adequately withstand exposure to fire and smoke from both directions for the stated time period, thereby eliminating the possibility for fire to enter or exit the riser shaft.

Trail of evidence

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 this provides a clear trail of evidence that ensures passive fire protection products comply with all current legislations, while 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 that the doors will not fail in the event of a fire episode. 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 itself.

In simple terms, 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 representation of the production process. Subsequently, this provides architects and their clients with the 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 such a scenario, architects must demonstrate that all reasonable steps have been taken during the specification process by choosing certified products that have comprehensive evidence attached to them.

That evidence will include the documentation produced by third party bi-directional fire testing, which not only ensures both exposure faces where the Approved Document B 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.

Mick Hill is Technical Specifications Manager at Profab Access (www.profabaccess.com)