CROSS Safety Report
Fire involving fluorescent light fitting
This report concerns a fire involving a fluorescent light fitting that occurred in a corridor in a sheltered housing complex.
Key Learning Outcomes
For designers and specifiers:
- Consider the potential consequences of any electrical fittings incorporating thermoplastics and the combination of flaming droplets and surfaces
For fire risk assessors:
- The potential for flaming droplets should be considered in all circumstances where escape route floor coverings are likely to be ignited
- The potential smoke yield associated with thermoplastics should be considered in the circumstances of single-direction escape, especially where the premises include sleeping accommodation
For fire and rescue personnel, building control inspectors and property managers:
- If you are aware of instances of fluorescent light fittings on means of escape routes catching fire and creating a hazard for occupiers, please let CROSS know
Find out more about the Full Report
The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.
A fire involving a fluorescent light fitting occurred in a corridor in a sheltered housing complex. Fluorescent lighting was situated throughout the common areas including the means of escape. These light fittings were fitted with thermoplastic diffusers made from polystyrene.
The reporter states that a fault within a fluorescent light fitting ignited the plastic diffuser, rapidly producing large amounts of thick black smoke. Flaming, molten plastic quickly enveloped the carpet within the corridor adding to the already dense smoke, making the means of escape impassable within a very short period of time.
As stated by the reporter, this resulted in eight residents having to be rescued by the Fire and Rescue Service.
It is noted by the reporter that the building had been visited by Fire Safety Officers from the Fire and Rescue Service and found to be broadly compliant with current fire regulations, i.e. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It was noted that the building had a high standard of fire protection; in particular, there was a comprehensive fire detection and fire alarm system providing early warning which was remotely monitored. Additionally, it was noted during their visit that fire-resisting doors were in good condition and had been fitted with intumescent strips and cold smoke seals.
Within certain limitations, the use of thermoplastic lighting diffusers in escape routes is currently permitted under approved guidance to the Building Regulations.
At the time of reporting, the reporter stated that the Fire and Rescue Service is currently carrying out further investigations and work on this matter and will be seeking to appropriately raise the issues arising with relevant persons, so that consideration can be given to the appropriateness of current guidance.
In addition to this work, CROSS would particularly welcome anyone who has experienced a similar fire to come forward so we can collate information and create a more complete picture and a better understanding of the issue can be made.
Expert Panel Comments
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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.
This report has raised important considerations for the design of buildings and in particular the specification of their electrical systems.
Designers and fire risk assessors are reminded that it is their job to always give suitable and sufficient consideration to all relevant factors. This report highlights the potential consequences of specifying any electrical fittings that incorporate thermoplastics, as the combination of flaming droplets and surfaces need to be considered. This incident emphasises that all light fittings, including trunking and cable clips, located in common corridors, should be appropriately protected so that this cannot occur.
Fire risk assessment
This report highlights that those responsible for fire safety in existing premises need to consider such events as part of their fire risk assessment under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It is incidents like this that can inform those responsible, as well as regulators, of potential hazards.
Given that eight residents had to be rescued, it would appear the corridor rendered impassable was a critical part of the means of escape.
Whilst thermoplastic diffusers are permitted in escape routes, the guidance refers mainly to surface spread of flame rather than the smoke yield and potential for burning droplets. It could be suggested that, as part of the fire risk assessment, the potential for flaming droplets should be considered in all circumstances where escape route floor coverings are likely to be ignited, and the potential smoke yield associated with thermoplastics should be considered in the circumstances of single direction escape. This would especially apply to premises that include sleeping accommodation.
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