Fire safety, competency and the way we build post-Grenfell has become a major industry focus. With specifiers under increasing pressure to ensure fire compartmentation is maintained, this feature looks at the design, specification and installation of building services penetrations through fire-compartment walls and floors.
Firestopping has historically been considered an activity that can be undertaken by those carrying out the installation on site, without prior involvement. As a result, very little consideration may have been given to firestopping of services penetrations during the design stage.
The problem with this approach is that it makes it very difficult, or even impossible, to install manufacturer tested and approved firestopping solutions for a variety of reasons including insufficient space available. Alternatively, there may not be an approved solution because of a mixture of services such as dampers, pipes and cables within the same penetration, when there isn’t an approved test method for that scenario. There are also cases of deviations from tested and approved manufacturer details at critical interfaces such as where services emanate from risers.
Generally, these issues occur as a result of a lack of consideration to passive firestopping, a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities between specialist trades, and a lack of ownership.
Firestopping of service penetrations should be considered when the building is being spatially planned and the building-services systems are being designed and co-ordinated. It is important to use only third-party tested and approved firestopping solutions, where the evidence of compliance is checked regularly by an independent body and not reliant on a simple pass/fail test on a particular day. In order for this to happen, specialist subcontractors and firestopping manufacturers will need to be engaged earlier than is often the case today.
It is also essential that everyone involved in the design and construction stage reads and understands the fire strategy. This should be prepared by a suitably qualified and experienced fire engineer and provide details of compartmentation and the requirements for any passive fire protection. The section on penetration seals should be read and understood by the designer, contractor, installers and checked against the third-party certificate of the penetration seals to ensure they are compliantly designed and installed.
To ensure the standard tested and approved firestopping details are incorporated at design and coordination stage, the builder’s work penetrations should be sized and then subsequently positioned using spacing rules developed from tested and approved details. These spacing rules should include factors such as pipe diameters, insulation thicknesses and edge distances. By doing this, it will ensure that builder’s work penetrations are not under, or oversized, and will make it easier for the firestopping contractor to seal the penetration in accordance with the tested and approved detail.
Service penetrations should be considered collaboratively at the design stage with input from the M&E designer, architect, the partition contractor and firestopping specialist. It is important that all those who carry out the installation are competent to do so and those installing the firestopping of the penetration seal are third-party accredited firestopping specialists. Note that the M&E contractor may not have the competence to take on that responsibility.
Compliance and third-party certification
Third-party-tested firestopping has been independently tested by a UKAS-accredited laboratory where the declaration of performance, or other performance rating, has been independently verified.
Compliance is achieved when a tested and approved solution is properly selected based on the fire strategy and then installed by competent individuals in accordance with that testing and approved solution. Compliance is demonstrated using evidence-based decisions coupled with evidence of a compliant installation using site images referenced back to unique numbers for each service penetration. This becomes an audit trail and demonstration of compliance with building regulations.
There are three ways that products are brought to market:
- Test report
- Third-party certification
Self-declaration may provide little in terms of evidence, and in some cases has been shown to be based on empty claims that the product complies without testing to back up the claim. Test reporting provides evidence that a product has passed a test on a day but doesn’t follow through to check that that the same product is still being used perhaps years after an initial test; it can lead uncertainty and risk.
Third-party certification ensures product conformity, as well as a full audit of the company involved in the manufacturing of the product. This will provide the specifier, customer and end user with the confidence that the product has been tested fully in accordance with the relevant British Standards and is fit for purpose.
- Passive firestopping of service penetrations must be considered during the design stage.
- Wherever possible, tested and approved standard solutions should be incorporated.
- Engage early with the main contractor and project team to ensure a consistent approach.
- Roles and responsibilities for passive firestopping should be defined from the outset.
- Engage with preferred manufacturers early.
- Develop benchmark and sample areas.
- Do not leave it to others to come up with solutions.
A new Best Practice Design and Installation Guide, Firestopping of Service Penetrations, produced by five leading not-for-profit organisations representing the wider construction and fire-safety industries, has been put together as a good-practice approach to firestopping on a construction project – from design to inspection – and will enable a project team to meet their obligations to deliver a safe and secure project in terms of penetration seals.
Fire safety in performance, both now and also in the future, is absolutely key and ties into the ‘golden thread’ of transparency and accountability. It is a conversation that should be between all parties including the manufacturer, architect, specialist installer, fire engineer and M&E consultants. Everyone involved in the provision of a fire-protection package, at any level, shares liability for its effectiveness and performance when needed in a fire. If properly designed, effective compartmentation is a major measure to protect life safety and buildings.
The best practice design and installation guide Firestopping of Service Penetrations is available to download on each of the associations’ websites.