POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Fire Safety of Construction Products

Published Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Fires at Grenfell Tower in 2017, Lakanal House in 2009, and other residential tower blocks have raised questions about how construction products affect the severity and spread of fires. This briefing considers how the fire safety of construction products is regulated; how products are tested and classified; and challenges for product testing and the building regulations more widely.

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Tower block

Many factors can affect fire safety, including building design, choice and installation of construction products, building contents (which commonly include combustible materials), the use of appliances such as electrical goods, and the actions of occupants. This briefing focuses on construction products and considers how they are regulated, tested and classified.

Key Points

  • Construction products are tested in accordance with defined standards to see how they behave when exposed to fire. The resulting classifications help to ensure that the products selected for an application are appropriate.
  • Fires behave in a complex and unpredictable way. Classifications are used to benchmark products against each other but do not directly reflect behaviour in a real building fire.
  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, products can be classified under two systems: the National system (BS 476 series) and the European Reaction to Fire classification system (Euroclasses, EN 13501 series). Scotland has its own classifications, based on these two systems.
  • The fire performance of construction products is assessed using standard tests. Tests can be used to assess a range of different properties, including combustibility, flame spread and fire resistance. Classification often involves using multiple tests in combination.
  • There are challenges specific to the testing of construction products, as well as wider issues associated with the Building Regulations that can affect the selection, installation and maintenance of products.
  • An Interim Report published in December 2017 by the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in England and Wales (led by Dame Judith Hackitt) highlighted a number of concerns, including: a lack of clarity about the roles and responsibilities of different parties; the complexity and lack of clarity of the regulations and guidance; a widespread use of certain assessments (‘desktop studies’) that is currently not properly managed; and inadequate means of ensuring competence and oversight of work.

 

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders, and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group*
  • ARUP*
  • Association for Specialist Fire Protection*
  • Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors*
  • British Plastics Federation*
  • Building Research Establishment*
  • Centre for Curtain Walling and Cladding Technology*
  • Construction Products Association*
  • Dr Angus Law, University of Edinburgh*
  • Dr David Purser, Hartford Environmental Research
  • Dr David Rush, University of Edinburgh*
  • Dr Herodotos Phylaktou, University of Leeds
  • Dr Talal Fateh, Ulster University
  • European Commission*
  • Fire Brigades Union*
  • Fire Safe Europe*
  • Fire Sector Federation*
  • FM Global*
  • Home Office*
  • Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety*
  • Local Authority Building Control*
  • National Assembly for Wales Research Service*
  • Prof Guillermo Rein, Imperial College London
  • Prof Richard Hull, University of Central Lancashire*
  • Royal Institute of British Architects*
  • Society of Fire Protection Engineers*

*Denotes those who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was invited to review this POSTnote but was unable to.

POSTnotes POST-PN-0575

Authors: Lydia Harriss; Erin Johnson

Topics: Housing, Regulation, Science, Standards

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.