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CROSS Safety Report

Fire risks in multi-storey car parks

Report ID: 940 Published: 14 October 2020 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A reporter is concerned by the reluctance of the industry to voluntarily take on board and proactively react to the lessons learnt from the fire at the Echo Arena car park in Liverpool.

Key Learning Outcomes

For design designers:

  • Be aware that a multi storey car park structure designed to withstand fire for 15 minutes may not satisfy the functional requirement of the building regulations

  • A holistic view of the structure and its systems should be undertaken, and consideration given to what might happen in extreme situations

  • Be aware of past failures and take them into account when designing or altering similar structures

For car park owners and managers:

  • Be aware of existing protection systems and ensure they are not compromised

  • Regular inspections of fire doors and passive fire protection systems can help to detect safety issues which may need addressing before they become hazardous

  • Fire safety inspections and assessments should be carried out by a competent person with relevant knowledge and experience

Full Report

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Following the fire at the Echo Arena multi-storey car park (MSCP) in Liverpool (See SCOSS Alert reference below) and articles in the technical press and on the national media, a reporter is concerned by the lack of awareness of such reports.

Lessons learnt need to be taken on board proactively

They are concerned about the reluctance of the industry to voluntarily take on board and proactively react to the lessons learnt. Being in a privileged position, the reporter often has the opportunity to undertake a peer review and to comment on designs. These designs are often in the concept stage or in construction.

Sadly, when the reporter challenges the suitability of designs that barely comply with minimum standards, they are confronted with a proliferation of economic reasons that they are told override potential safety issues.

Sadly, when the reporter challenges the suitability of designs that barely comply with minimum standards, they are confronted with a proliferation of economic reasons that they are told override potential safety issues

Inadequate fire resistance of materials

The Echo Arena MSCP in Liverpool demonstrated that a 15-minute fire resistance rating may be totally inadequate for exposed steel framed MSCP structures occupied by modern vehicles. However, designers and clients are telling the reporter that, until the regulations change, the design has to be to current standards.

There is little doubt, says the reporter, that the Echo Arena car park may have collapsed if it had been constructed to current standards in unprotected structural steelwork. Whilst structural steelwork is absolutely fine and highly sustainable, it needs to have adequate fire resistance.

The reporter’s concerns also extend to the use of permanent metal formwork which is often specified and used structurally in MSCP decks. The reporter feels that the potential effects of fire beyond the 15-minute rule should be considered.

They have an additional concern that these systems may have a reduced service life as a result of corrosion that takes place from salt laden water being trapped between the sheeting and the concrete.

A concerted effort is required to improve safety

The reporter often sees in existing car parks damaged fire doors which are incapable of protecting egress routes in the event of a fire. The reporter has observed cast iron drainpipes that have been replaced locally with plastic pipes which would burn through. This would allow burning fuel to cascade onto the decks below and propagate a fire.

Finally, the reporter fully supports the work currently being undertaken by the industry to raise standards. However, in the meantime the reporter believes it needs a concerted effort across the board to take on the knowledge that we currently have in our possession and not rely solely on standards that are likely to be inadequate in some cases.

Expert Panel Comments

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This list of short-comings and an apparent lack of thought and reflection is of concern and does not reflect well on some in the car park industry. A key benefit of CROSS is that the industry can learn from issues and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Manual to the Building Regulations

The risks from the Liverpool fire have been shown in the SCOSS Alert Fire in Multi-Storey Car Parks and designers should take account of these. Building regulations are minimum standards and responsible, informed owners, designers and contractors will acknowledge this.

One of the changes that will come from the Hackitt review is that buildings must be treated as holistic systems and consideration given to what might happen in extreme situations.

The recently published Manual to the Building Regulations – A code of practice for use in England, clarifies some limitations of the Approved Documents (see, for example, page 22).  It also clarifies the relationship between building regulation (the law) and the Approved Documents (statutory guidance).

The new manual goes beyond the introduction to Approved Document B and provides helpful advice:

‘Anyone using the approved documents should have sufficient knowledge and skills to understand the guidance and correctly apply it to the building work. This is important because simply following the guidance does not guarantee that your building work will comply with the legal requirements of the Building Regulations’.

Previous fires in car parks

Fire safety in car parks is an area that has caused alarm for some time. There have been a significant number of fires in recent years, some with significant consequences. The following are some recent fire incidents:

  • Monica Wills House, Bristol, December 2006

  • Brent Cross, December 2007

  • Shaw Lodge, Manchester, April 2008

  • Smithfield Gates, Dublin, August 2008

  • Ancoats, Manchester, November 2008

  • Cork, August 2019.

CROSS has reported before on car park fires, for example report 857 Fire resistance of multi-storey car parks published in October 2019.

CROSS supports any move to improve safety in car parks and with all of the current attention on the draft Building Safety Regulator there is scope for raising further awareness of the potential problems.

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