Ensuring best practice for passive fire protection

Recent reports alleging breaches in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the Order) have put passive fire protection firmly back on the agenda for those involved in building design, construction, management, maintenance and operations.

Apparent defects in passive fire protection systems have been cited as the primary causes of these alleged breaches. Any breaches in the Order may, of course, result in prosecution and lead to substantial PFP remedial work costs.

At Tenos, we firmly believe in taking a prevention rather than cure approach to fire safety which is why, in this article, we discuss the benefits of engaging with a fire engineering consultant at concept design stage to ensure best practice when it comes to designing, installing and maintaining passive fire protection systems.

But firstly, let’s look at why passive fire protection is so important and the common causes of defects:

What is passive fire protection?

Passive fire protection (“PFP”) is an integral component of a fire safety strategy. It forms an essential element of the structural fire protection and fire safety in a building.

Passive fire protection systems attempt to:

  • Contain fires (known as “compartmentation”);
  • Slow the spread of fire with for example fire resistant walls, floors and doors (protecting escape routes);
  • Protect the structural integrity of the property and reduce the likelihood of collapse. This provides the fire services with a safer environment in which to check the building is clear of occupants and fight the fire.

What are the common causes of defects in passive fire protection?

To be effective, passive fire protection systems require:

  • An appropriate initial design;
  • Proper installation and workmanship by third party accredited installers;
  • Post construction verification;
  • Proactive management and maintenance.

Unless poor workmanship/supervision occurred during construction, defects in passive fire protection typically arise as buildings are occupied post construction with additions and amendments to the use of the building. These changes may involve structural modifications and/or the provision of additional mechanical and electrical services, all of which may impact on the initial design or function of the building’s passive fire protection systems.

Although changes to the structure may be obvious, hidden features such as penetration seals, ductwork and smoke vents will only be properly inspected if an appropriate maintenance plan is in place and suitable and sufficient fire risk assessments are carried out.

Why is initial PFP design and installation necessary?

With the advent of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order in 2005, an ever increasing number of landlords, owners and contractors are anxious to ensure that they, as ‘responsible persons’, are fully compliant under the legislation. In addition, the sale of buildings, especially large and complex PFI projects, has resulted in the need to demonstrate legislative compliance to avoid possible prosecution and potentially major costs for remedial work.

Clients can ensure best practice in the design, installation and maintenance of a passive fire protection by engaging a fire engineering consultant from concept design stage to through the construction phase. Once the building is completed and occupied, a fire engineering consultant can advise on the ongoing management of passive fire protection systems to ensure the ‘responsible person’ satisfies their legal responsibilities under the Order.

With over twenty years of experience in fire safety design, fire safety engineering and fire safety management, Tenos fully understand the standards and criteria essential for designing, installing, inspecting and maintaining both passive and active fire protection systems.

We are currently involved with inspections of passive fire protection installations in healthcare, education, public and commercial buildings in order to provide an independent review and report on the condition of passive fire resistance installations.

We have a reputation for quality, experience and independence which means clients can be assured that, by acting upon our recommendations, they will be able to demonstrate auditable legislative compliance and, in the event of a dispute arising from such fire safety issues, Tenos are able to provide fire expert witness services from senior Chartered Engineers with a wealth of experience in all sectors of the built environment.

If you would like to discuss your passive fire protection consultancy requirements, contact Geoff Marlow on +44 (0) 161 872 6798.