Fire safety in the construction industry: Form and function - Fire safety in the construction industry: Form and function

The ROCKWOOL Group is committed to enriching the lives of everyone who experiences its product solutions. The company's expertise is perfectly suited to tackle many of today's biggest sustainability and development challenges, from energy consumption and noise pollution to fire resilience, water scarcity and flooding.

Stone wool is a versatile material and forms the basis of all ROCKWOOL Group's businesses. With more than 11,000 employees in 39 countries, it is the world leader in stone wool solutions, from building insulation to acoustic ceilings, external cladding systems to horticultural solutions, engineered fibres for industrial use to insulation for the process industry, and marine and offshore. Group CEO Jens Birgersson explains what industry stakeholders can do to contribute to better fire safety, especially after the Grenfell Tower fire.

What has changed since the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy?

Jens Birgersson: After Grenfell, we're seeing more focus on fire safety issues, including on the UK's current system of regulations, guidance, and testing of materials and systems. There's a strong popular demand to bring the UK's regulations more in line with leading European standards.

In what ways are the UK's regulations out of sync with other parts of Europe?

The current system of fire safety regulations and guidance is insufficiently rigorous, unduly complex, and leaves too much open to subjective interpretation. The use of 'desktop studies' as accepted guidance is a case-in-point. These studies involve theoretical projections of facade system behaviour in a fire, based on past data and consultants' calculations. In contrast, France and Germany already require that facades of high-rise buildings can only be clad and insulated in non-combustible Euroclass A1 and A2 materials.

What regulations would you like to see implemented?

We think the UK should require that all mid and high-rise buildings, as well as sensitive and high-occupancy buildings such as schools, hospitals and care homes, should only be clad and insulated with non-combustible materials. A logical corollary would be to adopt a simple binary system, with building materials classified as either combustible or non-combustible. What's more, materials classification also needs to consider smoke toxicity, which remains one of the biggest causes of death in building fires. Such a system would be a simple, easily implemented, and effective way to safeguard lives and property.

Do you think that UK industry is in a holding pattern, waiting for new regulations?

While the political process runs its course, the building industry needn't wait before taking voluntary action to increase public safety and building resilience. Architects, contractors, building owners and other industry players can voluntarily choose to use only non-combustible materials in facade systems and that's already happening. The question we should ask ourselves is, 'Why take the risk' to do otherwise?

Architects are a creative lot; wouldn't such a prescriptive approach limit design freedom?

It's not an either/or decision when it comes to fire safety and building aesthetics. Products such as our non-combustible Rockpanel cladding are available in a wide range of colours and finishes, are easily cut to shape and are relatively lightweight. Combined with non-combustible insulation, architects have plenty of options to create beautiful, functional and fire-safe buildings.

You put a lot of focus on the facade system; is that the core element in ensuring fire resilient buildings?

We've been producing non-combustible stone wool products for 80 years, and we know that fire safety requires more of an 'all-of-the-above' than a 'silver bullet' approach. Non-combustible insulation in the walls, ceilings and floors are important parts of fire compartments. Together, non-combustible facade systems and effective fire compartments can make the difference between a fire in a building and a building on fire.

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ROCKWOOL International A/S
Hovedgaden 584 DK-2640 Hedehusene
Denmark
Tel: (+45) 46 56 03 00 Fax: (+45) 46 56 33 11 E-mail: info@rockwool.com
Nordjylland
Denmark

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