Fire education

Students are a particular fire safety risk group; Mike Wood offers some essential guidance on fire-resistant glazing

The New Year is a time for celebration and, as ever, Britain’s student population is likely to throw itself into the joys of the new year. This is simply part of being a student. But few will give much thought to the risks of fire, and they are likely to be unaware that they are seen as a group with a distinctive lifestyle that leads to a particular fire safety risk profile.

Zurich Municipal has recently produced research on the fire risks posed by students. The headline finding is that 81 percent of students typically – and inadvertently – show behaviours that raise the risks of fire and its consequences. That isn’t to knock youthful high spirits. The research is matter of fact. It concludes that there are some aspects of student living that lead to raised fire safety risks. Thirty-three percent of the sample said that they were not aware of the fire safety procedures in their halls or rented accommodation. Two thirds carried out cooking after midnight, 50 percent under the influence of alcohol. Forty-three percent regularly dried clothes over heaters, 24 percent often burning candles. 

Information from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) shows there were 514 fires in student accommodation last year. Fifty-eight percent of all incidents come from cooking plus 9 percent of fires from chip pans or deep fat fryers. Other significant causes of fire are faulty electrical appliances, power leads, irons or hair straighteners left on (7 percent). Universities are aware of the risks and take steps to raise awareness. Some have video clips on their web pages, demonstrating the various hazards and illustrating how easy it is for a fierce fire to develop rapidly in a student room. 

The fire safety risks do not only come from the student way of life. Many houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), for example, are likely to be older buildings where the original fire safety precautions fall short of modern levels of safety and where various refurbishments and renewals may not have been carried out to current best-practice standards. 

As recent fires at Lakanal House and Shirley Towers illustrate, multi-storey blocks provide a proportionately higher risk than the same occupancy spread over separate individual dwellings. Risk increases with building height and number of storeys, and is critically dependant on the number of people in the building and the provisions for escape. Hazard assessment should consider the chances and possible speed of fire spread. The complexity and accessibility of the means of escape should be evaluated, including the condition and suitability of fire doors, lobbies, escape stairs and firefighter access stairs or lifts. Fire separation between individual dwellings is potentially crucial, as is the completeness of compartmentation throughout the buildings. Isolation and protection of the kitchen area should be a particular focus, particularly in HMOs and student halls where several share the same facilities.

Given the extensive use of glass in today’s buildings, an evaluation of glazing in common areas will also be necessary. This, for example, will be likely to include glazing in doors, screens, partitions and even external glazing where the panels look out on external escape ways or adjoining windows and neighbouring buildings. In many cases it is advisable for the fire risk assessor or fire safety manager to call for advice and guidance from an experienced specialist in fire-resistant glazing. 

Pilkington United Kingdom can offer some core principles as a basic guide: 

  • Standard glass products such as multiple glazed units, single glazing, toughened glass and laminated safety glass (“safety” referring to impact) do not have significant resistance to fire
  • There are several varieties of fire-resistant glazing, based on different fire-resistant technologies. All require care if installations are to function optimally. In each case the manufacturer’s guidance must be followed
  • Fire-resistant glass must be installed as part of a fire-resistant glazed system of matched, specified components
  • Details of the approved fire-resistant glazed system must be followed, in particular the extent of edge cover on the glass, expansion allowances if specified, specific bead dimensions and shape, the glazing arrangement, fixings and glazing materials
  • Fire-resistant performance is classified as either integrity (a physical barrier against fire) or insulation (acting as both a physical and effective heat barrier). Clear glass can still let through relatively high levels of heat, causing smouldering on the non-fire side (maybe even secondary ignition) and insulation may therefore be the preferred option
  • The fire-resistant glazed system must have applicable test evidence from an independent UKAS-accredited testing organisation
  • Claims for fire resistance should be determined according to applicable British test standards
  • The most unhelpful term in considering fire resistance is the generic and meaningless “fire rated”. All fire-resistant glass should be tested and classified as integrity or insulation together with an appropriate time achieved in a standard furnace test (e.g. 30, 60, 90, maybe 120 minutes)
  • Fire-resistant glass should be clearly marked. The stamp on the glass should at least identify the glass by name and manufacturer (e.g. PilkingtonPyroclear®) with its fire-resistance performance
  • The stamp should be permanent, legible and readable after glazing. Impact rating, if required, should also be included
  • Assessment reports may also be used to support application. These have to be properly approved and authenticated, and based on applicable source test evidence
  • Similarly, certificates under a UKAS-accredited third party certification scheme, referenced to source test reports, may also be used – but their use must be confirmed by the main company responsible for the fire-resistant glazed system named in such certificates
  • The fire-resistant glazing system must be installed as approved, according to the applicable source test evidence
  • Repair or refurbishment of existing fire-resistant glazed systems should be carried out according to the original system specification

Pilkington’s own product range provides a comprehensive set of solutions for the applications where fire-resistant glass is required. Most basic applications are for straightforward integrity fire resistance, used in particular to provide sufficient fire separation for protected escape before conditions become untenable. Pilkington Pyroshield™ 2, wired glass, provides a well-tried and trusted traditional option, and Pilkington Pyroclear® now provides an alternative in clear glass and gives an enhanced level of reliability compared with others in this category.

Where a relatively higher level of integrity performance with some additional insulation benefits may be required – for example, where the risks of safe escape are at a higher level – then Pilkington Pyrodur® Plus provides an excellent added value option, offering all the requirements expected of integrity fire resistance with the added benefit of a measure of full insulation (achieving 20 minutes insulation in standard tests, a considerable advantage compared with other integrity types). 

Full insulation performance at classification times from 30 minutes up to 180 minutes is provided by Pilkington Pyrostop®. Insulation fire resistance is usually recommended for those situations where the risks of prolonged exposure are much higher, the occupancy particularly vulnerable or where there are concerns about protecting the building, assets and adjacent properties. It would also be a recommendation to protect firefighters in emergency response and rescue operations.



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