The FPA speak to the Architects' Journal: Fire Safety Design Conference 2022

On Thursday 3rd November, Jonathan O’Neill, Managing Director, and Chris Miles, Commercial Director, at the FPA were invited to speak on Fire Testing and Certification to the audience of the online Fire Safety Design Conference 2022, organised by the Architects' Journal.

Covering three primary types of testing which are fundamental in the design of fire safety in buildings, the presentation was aimed at providing awareness and understanding of some of the factors affecting test performance and explaining how primary test evidence needs to match the supplied product.

Chris began the talk with a look at Reaction to Fire testing, which he noted generally consists of small-scale tests on the combustibility and ignitability of a single test subject. These tests can be complex and technical in nature, and he put forward the scenario of a waste-paper basket fire in a single room. The tests would then look at “what happens to the linings and content of that room? Do they support spread of the fire from the bin to further into the room?

Providing an overview of the tests, based on the BS EN 13501-1, which provides the standard for classification, he highlighted that it is Part -1 of the standard that relates specifically to fire safety. He then went on to explain the main classifications and what they refer to, with A1 and A2 products essentially being considered non-combustible, and B-F products having increasing levels of reaction to fire.

The session then moved on to discuss the important issue of Fire performance of external cladding systems testing, where Jonathan provided a background to the BS 8414 tests and the work completed by the FPA following the Grenfell Tower fire. Covering some of the recent regulatory changes, that see products of A2 or better being required for core components of cladding, he also highlighted a number of concerns that exist with the current tests. These include the changing fuel loads of modern materials and lifestyle, the breaching of cladding systems by vents and ducts, and importantly, the systems that details any differences between the product certified and the product as installed.

Jonathan noted that insurers are no longer assured that BS 8414 is robust enough to provide the level of detail required, and highlighted the work being done on producing an 8414+ test, that will include additional measurements and points for fire to ingress if allowed. This proposed new test will look to alleviate concerns that tests had been performed under almost perfect conditions, not reflecting the reality of a product’s use.

After Chris gave a brief over of Fire resistance testing, the issues surrounding the gaps between testing, certification, and installation were discussed. Questions that can arise include ‘what was tested compared with what is currently manufactured and supplied?’ and ‘how will a product be installed?’. Jonathan concluded by making it clear that to ensure these sorts of queries are properly considered, he would recommend going to testing houses and certification bodies that specialise in fire.