Fire Safety of Buildings: holistic Regulatory Approach Conference
European Fire Safety Week, Brussels - 19 November - Residence Palace
Context: The very first European Fire Safety Week
Under the umbrella of the European Fire Safety Alliance (EuroFSA), the very first European Fire Safety Week brought together a large range of stakeholders, such as academics, fire experts, industry players and policy makers to discuss key issues for improving fire safety.
On 19 November 2019, BUILDING DAY, a full-day high-level conference on the fire safety of buildings, was co-organised by the Modern Building Alliance, in collaboration with EuroFSA, CoGDEM, Europacable, the European Fire Sprinkler Network and European Aluminium.
Other events during the week looked at education (an essential element of prevention to promote fire safe behaviour), electrical safety (electrical faults being one of the main causes of fire) and furniture safety (because items of furniture are one of the first objects to ignite in residential fires). As part of European Fire Safety Week, the International Congress Fire Safety & Science took place in Arnhem and brought together fire fighters and researchers from all over the EU. In the European Parliament, the exhibition “Pride and beauty” took place during the whole week and the European Fire Safety Award, organised by EuroFSA and FEU (Federation of EU Fire Officer Associations) was delivered by MEP Theresa Griffin.
Finally, on Thursday, a specific event was held relating to the spreading of smoke in buildings, following some practical experiments conducted by IFV in The Netherlands. Avoiding exposure to smoke is an important element of the fire safety strategy in buildings and IFV tested how the smoke - from a relatively small fire (one sofa) - spreads in a residential care centre.
They analysed different conditions in order to learn what the best options for protecting the occupants from smoke exposure were.
All these themed events covered many aspects of fire safety, all of which are interconnected. Fire safety requires a holistic approach that looks at buildings, contents and people and the BUILDING DAY conference focused on how buildings can be made fire safe.
Given that building regulations, including those relating to fire safety, are of national and even regional concern, exchanging information and best practice at EU level is a must. The event was built around the B.I.O. framework that brings together all key elements to be considered for fire safe buildings in a EU context. The B.I.O. framework offers a clear way to structure the exchange of information between EU Member States.
The Building Day: What was said
In his opening address, Sean Kelly reiterated the importance of the role of buildings for the energy transition. The building stock must be renovated or converted to be energy efficient and decarbonised. This offers an opportunity to take fire safety properly into account and improve the quality of the building stock.
After the Grenfell Tower fire, Scotland revised its building code in light of the tragedy. Colin Hird, from the Scottish government, and Colin Todd, the consultant hired to conduct this review, presented the Scottish response to Grenfell. Adopting a holistic approach to fire safety, Scotland modified the rules relating to detection and alarms, early suppression, evacuation and façades. Scotland also worked on improving enforcement and prevention. See the presentation of Colin Hird and Colin Todd.
After these keynotes, Elie van Strien, from EuroFSA, opened the first session focused on the B of the B.I.O. framework: Building design.
Adam Heath, from the Modern Building Alliance, focused his presentation on the performance-based approach to façade systems. After a short introduction on the classification of materials in terms of combustibility, Mr Heath presented the performance of the entire façade system as tested via large-scale testing. Large-scale testing shows that restricting the materials that can be used in façades to only non-combustible materials (A1, A2) is neither sufficient nor necessary for limiting fire spread via the façades.
Starting from experimental fire propagation tests on façade mock-ups and from observations from the Grenfell Tower fire, Efectis, represented by Talal Fateh, built a model of fire propagation in the Grenfell fire via the façade. The model reflects the observations quite well and allows for a better understanding of what happened and the impact of the main components. He showed, among other things, that if the insulation (PIR) is changed to a non-combustible type (mineral wool), the fire would still spread in a similar way. However, if the cladding (made of Aluminium composite material with a polyethylene core - PE core ACM) is changed to a non-combustible type, the fire would not spread (even with the same combustible insulation).
The next topic to be addressed concerned structural safety and fire safety engineering. Professor Guillermo Rein, from the Imperial College of London, gave a presentation on how fire safety engineering methods and fire modelling tools help to design fire-safe timber buildings.
Merl Forrer, fire fighter and fire engineer, and Antonio Caballero, from the European Mortar Industry Association, joined the speaker for a panel debate. Key conclusions were the need to further develop a performance-based and engineering-based approach, combining large-scale testing and modelling, and to ensure these skills were well integrated in the value chain. Fire safety engineers should, for example, be more closely involved at an early stage in building design and the quality of implementation of the fire safety design must be ensured throughout the construction and lifetime of the building.
Installation is the next pillar of the B.I.O. framework.
Opening the second session, Elie Van Strien recalled that installations play an essential role in detection, early suppression, smoke management and firefighting.
Smoke detection is an essential component of fire safety. Shane Lyons, from CoGDEM, reiterated that smoke alarms allow for early detection of a fire and give occupants the time to react. It is a crucial tool in facilitating safe evacuation, particularly at night as smoke does not wake people up. While carbon monoxide detectors are not intended for fire situations, they are important in case of CO leaks from combustion heating systems. Smoke alarms should ideally be used in all housing but are only required in half of the EU Member States.
Alan Brinson, from the European Fire Sprinkler Network, clarified and explained how sprinklers are automatically activated by heat but only at the point where the fire breaks out. When a fire occurs, it can be stopped within the first few minutes by automatic sprinklers and reduce damage to people and property. In residential buildings, the requirement for sprinklers is more the exception rather than the rule. However, Wales is requiring them for all new homes. Some countries require sprinklers for new taller buildings (above 2 floors in Norway). Some do not require them at all.
The panel was joined by Emmanuelle Causse, representing property owners, and René Hagen, from the Dutch Fire Safety Academy. Emmanuelle Causse stressed the importance of applying the most cost-effective solutions, starting with prevention and education. According to an internal survey, some insurance companies offer a discount on their premium for buildings equipped with smoke alarms or sprinklers. This would therefore be a possible way to encourage such technological solutions. For René Hagen, smoke detectors are essential but must be installed correctly and tested regularly. Follow-up solutions must also be in place for people not able to escape themselves. In his view, for such people, and in case of a stay-put policy, sprinklers are essential.
While Building and Installation requirements are defined at national or regional level, they are backed by EU standards. This was the topic of the third session.
The Construction Products Regulation (CPR) lays down harmonised rules for the marketing of construction products in the EU. The CPR provides a European framework for assessing the performance of construction products. Before they can be used in buildings within the EU, almost all construction products must first be tested and verified according to a harmonised European standard (hEN) or a European Assessment Document (EAD).
This ensures that reliable and harmonised information is available to professionals and consumers, and allows national authorities to set criteria and requirements based on this framework.
Fire safety is one of the seven basic work requirements from which essential characteristics are established.
Guido Sabatini, from European Aluminium, opened the discussion on standards by presenting innovative building products made from aluminium and showed how the framework provided by the Construction Products Regulation ensures proper testing and declaration of performance, including for fire safety. He stressed that innovation must go, and is going, hand-in-hand with fire safety.
Christophe Richon showed how the Construction Products Regulation has been applied for cables in terms of fire safety. Performance classes have been defined according to how cables contribute to fire development and spread, heat release and smoke production. It enables the right cable performance to be selected for each application.
Lance Rütiman, from Euralarm, presented the challenges in applying the Construction Products Regulation in the case of fire detection and alarm systems. He showed that applying the same approach to construction materials and technical building equipment in the CPR is like “squaring the circle” and has led to significant complications for his industry. He called for a solution that allows standards for fire detection and alarm systems to follow the pace of innovation and for maintaining performance limits for these safety products as they are used in national regulations.
The panel was joined by Heikki Väänänen, DG Grow, Gonçalo Ascensao, CEN-CENELEC, and Oscar Nieto, Construction Products Europe. The debate highlighted not only the essential role of product standards and the CPR but also the need to address the implementation challenges and the diversity of products in scope via an efficient collaboration between the EU Commission, Member States, standardisation and industry.
Organisation is the last pillar of the B.I.O. framework. Opening the fourth session, Elie van Strien stressed the importance of ensuring a clear definition of roles and responsibilities, and providing adequate means to integrate fire safety within building design, construction and maintenance, as well as to ensure effective market surveillance, prevention and fire rescue.
Ensuring proper enforcement of rules and standards is central to ensuring the fire safety of buildings. With his presentation, René de Feijter, from Efectis, showed several examples of fire safety failures based on real-life fire investigations and his own experience. With his eye-opening examples, he argued that a strong focus on the human factor, via education, awareness and knowledge, is a necessary complement to rules, certification and CE marking.
For his second presentation, Christophe Richon, explained how market surveillance works for cables and reiterated the importance of strong market surveillance to ensure that non-compliant (and possibly unsafe) products are removed from the market. Notified bodies, national market surveillance authorities, the EU Commission and industry can collaborate to strengthen market surveillance.
Buildings are not safe because they are not perfectly designed. In the long term, quality control and maintenance of installations are crucial to ensuring the fire safety of a building. From the point of view of Robert Reinermann, from VdS (an insurance company), ensuring the quality of safety installations like sprinklers requires a combination of adequate standards/guidelines, correct testing/certification of components, reliable certification of installers and effective inspections.
Merl Forrer presented the role of fire fighters in fire safety. Thanks to his dual experience as a firefighter and fire engineer, Mr Forrer covered a large range of aspects related to the work of fire fighters, from the weight of their equipment and the obstacles they encounter during their interventions to the danger of non-compliance. Fire services can play an important role in building inspections and his experience has shown him how crucial it is to identify and anticipate the main issues.
The panel was joined by Eric Winnepenninckx, from FIEC, Eugenio Quintieri, from EBC, and Quentin de Hults, from the Modern Building Alliance. They stressed the importance of ensuring that solutions are applicable in practice, which requires the provision of correct information to contractors from manufacturers and a focus on the skills agenda. Raising the bar for quality in buildings also means, for example, that costs should not be the only driver in public procurement.
In the concluding panel, in the presence of MEP Theresa Griffin (S&D, UK), Fulvia Raffaelli (European Commission, DG Grow), Colin Hird (Scottish Government), Quentin de Hults (Modern Building Alliance) and Elie van Strien (European Fire Safety Alliance), all reiterated the importance of the topic of fire safety and the importance of addressing it at EU level by organising effective exchanges of information and collaboration. The EU Fire Information Exchange Platform plays an essential role in this regard.
In the conclusions:
Quentin de Hults, Executive Chair of the Modern Building Alliances stated:
“Fire safety is a very important issue for the plastics industry in construction for a very simple reason: our products, which have many benefits for sustainable and energy-efficient construction, are - like all organic products - combustible.
Plastic products are fully compatible with fire safety in their intended applications when things are done correctly. Organic materials are essential for buildings, and we want the buildings in which they are used to be fire-safe. Therefore, we work on all the aspects directly related to our products (correct testing, selection and application) and we also support what is done beyond (prevention, detection, etc.). We are committed to supporting the EU in ensuring safe and sustainable buildings, which also means helping to spur debate, like we did today.”
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