Staying Safe Under Fire

Staying safe may have taken on a new meaning in the past year, but fire safety remains top of the agenda for the construction industry. Susan Sinden, Commercial Manager of ESG Group explains why fire safety glass is still one of the most important safety measures in keeping occupants safe in a wide variety of non-domestic properties.

When building or refurbishing almost any commercial or public building, it is essential to observe and comply with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which came into force in October 2006. Since that time, awareness of fire safety measures has improved greatly and the range of products designed to minimise the risk of the spread of fire has also increased.

One such product is fire resistant safety glass, which has become surprisingly better developed and versatile over the past decade and a half. There are several versions of fire-resistant safety glass, so it is essential to specify the most appropriate type for any individual project. Perhaps the most pressing consideration is the amount of time that would be needed to evacuate the property in the event of fire.

In the past, fire resistant safety glass usually came 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 the event of a fire, this Integrity only glass 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 second type of glass also limits the transfer of heat. Using modern processing methods, however, we can now produce a hybrid product, which can deliver a partial containment of radiated heat, but without carrying a prohibitive price tag. This is denoted as type ‘EW’ under BS regulations and is increasingly popular with specifiers, as it represents a ‘best of both worlds’ option.

In the event of fire, EW classified glass will help to safeguard the property’s occupants, but will also help limit the damage to the building itself. This gives the architect scope to realise their design using a practical, affordable product, while also providing the property’s owners, and its legal Responsible Person, with added peace of mind.

Fire-resistant safety glass is specified according to the time for which it can delay fire from spreading. This is assessed under strict testing in fire conditions. For many properties, 30 minutes is entirely adequate for evacuation, especially if it used mostly in business hours, by relatively fit and active people.

However, if the property is to be used for sleeping, by the elderly, or those with limited mobility, it is vital to delay any fire for longer. This may apply to hospitals, care homes, hotels and even secure premises such as prisons. The use of the premises is usually critical. Manufacturing premises, where flammable materials are stored, will also often fall into this category. In these settings, a product which provides 60 minutes of protection will be more appropriate. 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. If in any doubt, it is wise to consult the owner or end user, and to take advice from fire and rescue services before specifying.

The efficiency of fire-resistant safety glass is also partly dependent on the frames in which it is installed, so do make sure that the glass and the frames are compatible before specifying. When specifying, it is wise to look for CERTIFIRE approval, which is a good indication of a quality product. 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 the past, it has been difficult to source large panels of Integrity only fire-resistant safety glass to use with steel frames. With the advent of glass such as ESG’s Pyrotech™ 660, a toughened laminated fire-safety glass which passes all relevant BS standards, this problem has been solved, and the larger sized panes are now freely available.

It should be noted that the performance of fire-resistant safety glass can be compromised if cracked or broken, so any damaged panels should be replaced immediately.

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