Concerns over tests

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell reports on the latest news that fire tests are considered inadequate.

One thing that impresses me most about our industry is its ability to adapt to changing trends. Examples that spring to mind include heritage-style frames, lightweight solid roofs, and the prevalence of glass in commercial fit-outs.

Another sector that is seeing growth is fire doors. However, unlike other trending market sectors, fire doors have to conform to a strict set of guidelines which, since the appalling Grenfell Tower fire, have come under greater scrutiny.

And now, while manufacturers strive to design the best performing products, and installers endeavour to fit according to best practice, there are concerns that the fire test themselves are not fit for purpose.

Research conducted on behalf of the insurance industry in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire has exposed what it calls “the utter inadequacy of the laboratory tests currently used to check the fire safety of building materials”.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) commissioned the Fire Protection Association (FPA) to carry out a series of carefully controlled experiments recreating more realistic building conditions than those in which the standard tests are done, in an effort to measure what difference these factors could make in the event of a fire.

The real-life factors overlooked by the official testing regime include:

  • Test fires which are only made up of wood. In modern blazes, around 20% of the materials involved are plastic.
  • Cladding materials are sometimes tested as a sealed unit, whereas when fitted on a building they often include gaps, and cover a far more extensive area.
  • Materials tested will be in manufacturer condition, but during their actual use will often be pierced by things such as vents or ducts.

In its submission to the Hackitt review, the ABI called for an end to the use of all but non-combustible materials in construction, and a reformed testing regime that replicates real world conditions to provide genuine evidence of how materials perform in a fire. “The results of these latest tests all reinforce the importance of urgent reform,” it said.

Huw Evans, director general of the ABI, said: “Dame Judith Hackitt’s important work post-Grenfell has already recognised the building control system is broken. This latest research is yet more evidence that fundamental reform is needed to keep our homes and commercial premises safe from fire. It is a matter of urgency that we create the right testing regime that properly replicates real world conditions and keeps pace with building innovation and modern design.”

The full press release can be found here.