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CROSS Safety Report

Inadequate fire stopping around cables and other penetrations

Report ID: 1201 Published: 21 August 2023 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A reporter observed inadequate fire stopping due to ineffective installation and/or damage caused by follow on trades.

Key Learning Outcomes

For passive fire protection installers:

  • Persons employed to carry out work that involves safety critical, often hidden, passive fire protection measures must be competent for the task
  • Companies employing installers should check the quality of work carried out

For risk assessors and fire engineers:

  • Passive fire protection should be checked as part of a survey or risk assessment, to gain assurance that the fire strategy for compartmentation can be relied on

For building owners and managers:

  • Assurance should be attained from competent persons that the fire precautions specified in a design fire strategy are in place and likely to be effective
  • When follow on trades are contracted to work in areas where passive fire protection is installed, assurance should be obtained that the works have not compromised the protection
  • The use of UKAS accredited third party passive fire protection certification schemes is encouraged

Full Report

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A reporter states that following numerous compartmentation surveys in residential flats, inadequate and incomplete fire stopping of cables and services have been regularly observed as they pass through compartment walls. These appear to be either as part of the initial build or following subsequent installations after premises occupation. These installations include fire alarm systems, communications wiring and general electrical works.

As well as creating new penetrations, existing fire stopping systems have also been damaged, thus rendering them ineffective. These compartmentation defects are very often in unseen locations, for example above false ceilings, and are therefore not obvious to building owners and managers.

The reporter estimates that 70 percent of residential flats they've seen in the last 12 months have some compartmentation issues.

A building may have had all service penetrations correctly fire stopped at the handover stage, but subsequent installations will have made the compartmentation defective, potentially without the building owners being aware. Due to the unseen locations of the penetrations, a fire could go unchecked from compartment to compartment. The areas affected include walls above flat lobbies and cross corridor doors meaning that regular checks of fire resisting door sets could miss these areas. If building owners are not aware until a later date that the compartmentation of a building has been affected then the costs, both financial and risk to life, could be significant.

The reporter asserts that the underlying cause appears to be a lack of communication between installers and building owners, as well as a lack of understanding of the importance of compartmentation/fire stopping systems. This may be due to a lack of training of installers rather than the company as a whole. Communication and agreement between both parties could prevent any misunderstandings.

Before any installation that will affect compartmentation in a building, there should be an agreement between building owners and installers that any penetrations will be effectively fire stopped. There should be a two way system of reporting if current fire stopping systems have been damaged and building owners should check the compartmentation post installation.

Fire risk assessors should carry out a sample of compartmentation as part of their assessments and building owners should be made aware of any issues, according to the reporter.

Expert Panel Comments

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Fire compartmentation issues appear to be a recurring regular reporting topic to CROSS. CROSS Report 1039 Fire compartmentation detailing issues is a good example.

In this report, the reporter provides an additional concern relating to the importance of those responsible for the premises ‘managing’ the fire resisting compartmentation throughout its life cycle. This not only becomes a regulatory issue under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO, with similar in devolved administrations) but is a good example of how an important fire safety measure will need to be managed by the golden thread of information when considering The Building Safety Act 2022, especially when accountable persons are preparing their respective safety cases.

It is important for fire risk assessors and building managers to check for new cables and penetrations when completing building inspections

It is important for fire risk assessors and building managers to check for new cables and penetrations when completing building inspections. Owners and occupants of buildings should be reminded on a regular basis that any works requiring drilling or damage to their area or communal areas must be carried out with authorisation, and by competent persons. The use of a permit to work helps to ensure standards are maintained.

It is worth mentioning that the drive to install high speed broadband may exacerbate this issue further. Several national providers are installing their own systems in separate trunking in blocks of flats. This results in many more penetrations than would be necessary if they shared trunking or even cables. It is understood that the wayleave agreements these companies have, allows them to enter blocks of flats with minimal consultation or notice to landlords.

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