In the first part of this article, Chris Peters, chief design manager, looked at how some fire specifications are being changed to save money. Here, Chris looks at another cost-saving measure with a potential impact on fire safety.
In my earlier article, I looked at the perfectly-understandable pressures on our bottom lines.
COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on turnover and profitability. It’s no longer business as usual, but doing business in a new normal.
That means reassessing everything we do. That includes the resilience of our supply chains, to the systems and processes we have to fabricate, supply and install our systems.
Partly, that’s to ensure that we comply with all new safety regulations. But it’s partly also about looking at every aspect of cost and deciding if something could be achieved more cost-effectively.
Our emphasis on cost-efficiency is therefore about improving systems and processes. It will never involve compromising the safety and integrity of what we do.
That’s why we have repeatedly raised how some specifiers are reducing fire safety thresholds from 60 minutes to 30 minutes.
While we understand that contractors have the same financial pressures, it’s a change in specification with one objective. To save money.
While there’s nothing wrong with making prudent cost savings, compromising on fire safety can never be a good thing.
What makes it all the more galling is that those compromises are all within fire safety regulations. As Grenfell Tower so graphically demonstrates, fire regulations still contain grey areas.
Because fires in large and complex buildings rarely happen, those grey areas go largely unchallenged. Perhaps Grenfell Tower will yet provide the catalyst for positive change.
But there’s another insidious aspect to cost-cutting in the new normal. It’s another aspect of the fire safety sector that we have repeatedly written about.
One of our mantras to architects, specifiers and contractors is to recognise the importance of specifying specialist glazing systems as one tested and integrated assembly.
We have been at the forefront of fire testing our assembles to EU, US and Asia Pacific standards, including live bomb testing.
However, some building designers still rely on fire test certifications where the glass and framing systems have been tested independently. Again, it’s done for cost reasons.
In a fire situation the performance of any glazing system relies on compatibility between the glass and its framing system. If one fails, both fail.
On paper, separate glass and framing systems may offer the required level of fire safety. However, only tested compatibility will guarantee absolute system performance.
Advanced glass and glazing systems have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. They’ve had to evolve to meet the more complex specifications required by architects and designers.
But that places much greater emphasis on the integrity of the testing regime. In particular, some testing criteria, such as creating a fixed breakage temperature for the hot layer, are simply an inadequate means of testing the glazed element within its framing system.
Also, some computer models do not have the capability to model room fires that are suddenly flooded with a new source of oxygen. Maybe because of window glass or internal glass screen breakage.
In other words, actual fire testing – rather than assumption – is a far better guarantee of fire safety.
Our testing regime subjects our integrated systems to furnace temperatures of well over 1000˚c. This tests the strength of the glass and the protective level of the framing system.
It therefore tests its overall capability to maintain compartmentation in a fire situation.
This is, after all, the primary function of an integrated glass and framing system. To provide an effective barrier against the passage of fire, heat and toxic gas. Also, by preventing oxygen from reaching the seat of the fire, to inhibit its progress.
The new normal puts pressures on us all, to rethink how we do business and, where we can, make cost reductions.
But those cost savings should never be made at the expense of compromising fire safety.