Fire safety glass – timing is everything

Since October 2006, when The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into effect in England and Wales, replacing over 70 pieces of fire safety law, it has been essential for contractors and architects to be aware of fire safety in the built environment. Whether building a new public building or a commercial property; or conducting a major refurbishment; part of the solution for almost any non-domestic premises will be fire safety glass, as Scott Sinden, Managing Director of leading glass manufacturer and processor ESG Group, explains.

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Scott Sinden

Managing Director at ESG Group

For every commercial or public building, a responsible person, as defined by The Regulatory Reform Order 2005, must conduct a five-point risk assessment of the property. The fourth step in this process includes recording potential fire risks and what has been done to alleviate them. Fire-resistant glass can provide a vital fire safety measure in that it can delay the spread of smoke and flames. Valuable minutes can be gained, allowing the occupants to be evacuated to safety or, depending on the scale of the fire, it may be possible to tackle the fire and contain and extinguish it before further damage is done.

Fire-resistant safety glass comes in several forms, and, therefore, it is vital to specify the right type for each project. While budget is always a consideration when specifying any product, it is reassuring to know that modern production methods have ensured that fire-resistant safety glass doesn’t come at a disproportionate cost; it can be specified with the purpose and function of the building in mind. The amount of time needed to evacuate a building will be a critical factor in choosing the type of glass to install.

Fire-resistant safety glass has traditionally come in two main types. The first is Integrity-only fire-resistant safety glass, classified as type ‘E’ under BS476 Pt 22 and BS EN 1364 Pt 1 1999. In case of fire, this type contains flames, smoke and gases, but not heat. The second type is Integrity and fully Insulating fire-resistant safety glass, denoted as type ‘EI’ under the same regulations. In addition to containing the fire, this also limits the transfer of heat. Using modern processing methods, however, we can now produce a hybrid product, denoted as type ‘EW’ under BS regulations, which can deliver a partial containment of radiated heat, but without carrying a prohibitive price tag.

Essentially, this represents the best of both worlds. It gives the architect scope to specify a practical and cost-effective product; while owners of the building can have confidence that, should there be a fire, the safety glass will help limit damage to the building, as well as safeguarding its occupants.

Fire-resistant safety glass should be specified according to the time that it delays fire, under strict testing in fire conditions. Depending on the size and function of the building, 30 minutes may be sufficient. Buildings routinely occupied by fit, active individuals can be rapidly cleared. However, if the premises are used for sleeping, by the elderly, or those with limited movement, it is vital to delay any fire for longer; and a product which gives 60 minutes of protection will be advisable. The use of the premises is key – a warehouse storing flammable materials will need careful consideration, as will a residential care home, for example.

You must bear in mind when specifying the needs of the occupier, so it is wise to consult the owner or end-user, as well as taking advice from fire and rescue services.

The effectiveness of fire-resistant safety glass is partly dependent on the frames in which it is installed, and when specifying, it must be confirmed that the glass and the frames are compatible. One problem historically was finding large enough panels of Integrity-only fire-resistant safety glass to use with steel frames. When specifying larger expanses, therefore, it is essential to look for glass such as ESG’s Pyrotech 660, a toughened laminated fire-safety glass which passes all relevant BS standards, and has been developed expressly for this purpose. Full insulation is also possible using a multi-layered fire-resistant glass, which can provide up to 120 minutes of protection, so it is also a good idea to ask the glass processor for advice on the best product to use.

A good indication of a suitable product is CERTIFIRE approval. CERTIFIRE is an independently run, UKAS-accredited centre which assesses test evidence from fire-resistant safety glass products, and gives guidance on the kinds of materials with which they can be used, without compromising their effectiveness. In areas where a fire-resistant safety glass partition is to be installed, this is a useful double-check for the specifier. The performance of fire-resistant safety glass is also affected by damage, so any cracked or broken panels should be replaced immediately.

Provided fire-resistant glass and its frames are correctly specified; modern glass processing is now helping to protect a wide range of organisations from the worst effects of fire, including damage to the fabric of the property and disruption to business or public services.

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