Shop fitters may be asked to demonstrate that products installed on site meet reaction to fire requirements but many are leaving it too late, says Philip Howard.
Specifiers and fire risk assessors involved in large retail developments, such as shopping centres and transport hubs, are increasingly requesting that fittings used during retail fit-outs meet stringent reaction to fire requirements. Since these requirements can result in shopfitting displays and materials being rejected, often at a late stage in the build, suppliers and contractors must ensure that they know of any site-specific requirements at the start of any major fit-out project.
What is reaction to fire?
The reaction to fire performance of a material relates to its combustibility and ignitability i.e. its contribution to fire growth, rather than its ability to resist the passage of fire (which is proved by fire resistance testing). So, reaction to fire test results help specifiers understand how materials used in shop fit-outs will perform, should a fire occur, and to limit their combustibility. Limiting how a fire develops in its early stages is of crucial importance to ensuring safe evacuation.
In retail applications, components that may require testing include shelving units, play areas, display cases and other fittings, particularly if they cover the full height of a wall. Many of these are constructed from several components, such as laminates fixed to backing boards made of all types of material, ranging from plasterboard to mdf.
While product testing should be carried out before a product is installed on site, BM TRADA has seen a steady increase in the number of clients wishing to test their products after installation. This is usually due to the specifier or person responsible for signing off the building realising that the presented test evidence for a product is incomplete.
This can have serious implications, since, at this point, there is only a short time available in which to resolve the problem. It is often too late to change some products already installed on site, and there can be costs and aesthetic implications associated with remedial works required to replace or upgrade the product’s reaction to fire performance to the required level. There may even be research and development work required to identify the way forward out of this difficult situation.
So how can manufacturers avoid this situation?
In Europe, there are seven ‘Euroclasses’, A1 to F, with A1 offering the best performance and F the worst. The test evidence for products tested to European test standards is presented in a BS EN 13501-1: Fire Classification of Construction Products and Building Elements: Classification using test data from reaction to fire tests classification document. As well as revealing the test results, the classification document covers the application of the product in its end use. This is called the field of application of the product.
When signing off the building or installation, a specifier will look to see that the product is installed with the correct substrate, air gap, fixings, joints, colour and thickness, and will check this against the field of application section of the classification document.
Specifiers both in the UK and on the European mainland can be exceptionally meticulous at examining the test evidence with which they are presented, particularly in high risk areas such as airports, railway stations and other transport hubs; high end retail stores; shopping centres; schools; hospitals; care homes; hotels; and exhibition halls.
Manufacturers can avoid nasty surprises by preparing in advance for large projects. They should always ask to see the EN 13501-1 European classification document for each of the components used and check the field of application carefully. This will help them to avoid common areas of non-compliance.
A general misconception is that manufacturing a product made of components which achieve Euroclass B, for example, will lead to the finished product being Euroclass B, without further testing. This is not always the case, and the completed product may require testing to demonstrate its compliance.
For example, purchasing a Euroclass B laminate and securing it to a Euroclass B MDF board can result in a composite product with a worse performance than Euroclass B. If the laminate was tested on a material of limited combustibility such as plasterboard and it achieved a Euroclass B in testing, then the same performance cannot be expected on an MDF board, (even if this MDF board is Euroclass B) and the classification evidence is not valid for the product in this end use.
Similarly, purchasing a component labelled as fire resistant (FR) does not mean that the component will be “fire retardant” or that it will demonstrate a higher level of performance than other components in the market place. The evidence may not be appropriate to the end use application for which the product is required. Or, the product may have no test evidence, or offer evidence from another system, such as ASTM testing (the system used in the USA), which is usually not recognised or acceptable in Europe.
With an increasing number of projects now having stringent reaction to fire requirements, suppliers who can demonstrate the behaviour of their products with appropriate test evidence can offer peace of mind and value to specifiers.
BM TRADA recently worked on a high profile retail project with UK manufacturer and project management company, Woodteam. BM TRADA tested a whole range of shelving, mid-floor units, wall and display units for installation within retail outlets across Europe (in UK, France, Germany and beyond). The products achieved EN 13501-1 reaction to fire classifications of Euroclass B and C.
Woodteam Managing Director Warren Cassidy declared: “Woodteam works alongside both multi-national and individual companies to deliver commercially viable solutions which have impact, style and enhance our customers` reputation.
“BM TRADA enabled us to offer a range of units that met all of our client’s fire safety requirements, enabling us to complete the project on schedule and providing assured fire performance.”
With advance planning, it is possible to incorporate the time and cost of reaction to fire testing into sizeable projects, ensuring that manufacturers save time, cost and, above all, reputation.
BM TRADA can help with reaction to fire testing for all types of products. It can also assist manufacturers in reviewing existing test evidence and ensuring all products used have obtained the necessary classification for each project.
In advance of every large project, manufacturers should:
- Check for site-specific fire requirements
- Review all the test evidence, paying special attention to the field of application in relation to the particular project. BM TRADA can help with reviewing existing test evidence.
- Carry out research and development work and conduct indicative testing if required.
- Obtain a full classification that will provide the evidence required for the project.
- Remember that the research and development work necessary to obtain a classification takes time and incurs costs in both materials and testing activities. Plan for this up front.
Philip Howard is the Technical Head of BM TRADA’s Fire Division