The fire performance of modern methods of construction used in timber frame buildings came under the spotlight at an insurance industry event earlier this month. The insurance industry has a pretty significant influence on what can and can’t be built given that being refused insurance would make the building unsellable.
The RISCAuthority (“The Risk Insight, Strategy and Control Authority”, formerly InFireS), who organized the Seminar, represents many UK insurers with a remit to research and develop risk mitigation measures against fire and security risks. It publishes extensive guides and recommendations for risk mitigation in the areas of Fire and Security. The Risc Authority’s seminar was held in the wake of recent large fires in timber frame buildings and construction sites in London.
I am quite a fan of Timber Frame houses particularly the more aesthetically pleasing homes I have seen featured on Grand Designs. The Timber framed constructions at the centre of this story were more pragmatic multi occupancy affordable housing that utilized the twin benefits of using environmentally sustainable materials and being quick and presumably cheaper to construct than the usual concrete and steel methods.
As far as I can make out timber framed buildings present no greater risk from fire than conventional constructions and pretty detailed industry standards and building regulations are in place to ensure it stays that way. The evidence suggests the greatest fire risk is during construction rather than in completed buildings.
This begs the question as to how the Regulatory Reform (Fire safety) Order applies to construction sites. Clearly it must but by their very nature the potential fire risks on construction sites will be a constantly moving target, giving the Responsible Persons quite a headache to ensure conformity during every stage of the process.
There is also the cost factor. Economic reality dictates that although site safety is clearly paramount it is impracticable to be conducting interminable Risk Assessments and implementing fire measures that are quickly redundant.
The fire safety industry has come up with some solutions. Standalone and linkable fire call points and alarms like the Howler range can be installed to suit the site conditions and adapt to changing size. They have the benefit that at the end of construction they can be quickly dismantled and moved to the next site.
Wheeled mobile fire extinguishers are also ideal for this application and can be quickly deployed to counter a fire in any area of the site. Again once the job is done they can be easily moved to a new site location. They also have a far higher fire rating than the smaller portables with capacities up to 100litres.
The RRO also requires specialist construction site signage. This can get expensive if using the corrugated plastic and foam board versions as they are easily damaged and vandalised. The new TUFF Site Signs are virtually indestructible and despite being more expensive they work out cheaper in the long run as they can be used time and time again. The site safety manager therefore has the means to put together a mobile package of fire and safety equipment that can be deployed to suit individual site conditions.