It seems that the world grows a little bit taller with every building we create – especially in places like Dubai, where architecture tends towards the incredibly tall. Making tall structures safe is a science and an art; keeping the architect’s vision intact while exceeding safety standards is the goal.
Not all tall structures in the world are new, though. They’re not all as exclusive and expensive as those in Dubai. Many, especially those in the UK, were built as social housing.
Retroactively assessing and modifying tall buildings could help to prevent tragedies like Grenfell from happening again – even if it’s just changes to signage and procedures.
Let’s look at the regulations and solutions for fire safety in tall buildings.
No building, new or old, can be too big to fail. Regulations must be adhered to, because lives are at stake. If anything, developers, architects and contractors should be aiming to exceed standards and constantly improve.
Requirement B4(1) of the Building Regulations states that, “The external walls of the building shall adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls and from one building to another, having regard to the height, use and position of the building.”
This applies to any building with a floor over the height of 18 metres.
After the Grenfell Tower fire, external cladding has (rightly) come under scrutiny. The sheer flammability of the cladding core installed at Grenfell caused the building to burn rapidly in all directions, and didn’t allow firefighters to extinguish the flames before they could spread. The cladding did not, even remotely, resist the spread of fire. The plastic lining of the cladding (used to reduce weight) was highly flammable.
Compartmentation isn’t solely applicable to interior spaces – and we’ve covered the details of how it works in depth. Cavities between each section of cladding and the structure itself, lined with non-combustible materials, can effectively convert each panel into an isolated “cell”. On top of that, cladding must be able to resist:
- Internal flames spilling outward through windows
- Fire from neighbouring buildings
A new fire safe material developed by the University of Melbourne’s Innovative Fire Engineering Group could be the next non-combustible cladding core. It’s made with ceramics suspended in plastic, which vastly increases its heat resistance.
How to Prevent High Rise Fires
Fire prevention and protection in high rise buildings is much the same as in any other structure – amplified by the scale and risk a large building poses. With improvements in cladding regulations, building owners should take stock of their overall fire safety and take the time to evaluate key areas for improvement.
Vigilance and Education
It’s up to everyone to report danger and risk. Improperly stored paper, a buzzing electrical outlet, chemical spillages – anything that could cause a fire. Training and education are important factors; giving occupants the knowledge they need to stay ahead of fires (including how to use fire extinguishers) is vitally important.
How well do people know procedure in the event of a fire? Do they know where to go and what to do – is the signage to a protected means of escape clear? Even small reminders and slight tweaks to visual cues can make a huge difference.
Active and Passive Fire Protection
Sprinklers should be considered in all large buildings as part of their active fire protection. Alarms and sensors must be installed as standard equipment. Detecting fire in good time is the only way to know how to respond. By using active fire protection, response can be automated – drastically improving the speed of response. For example, on detection of a fire in a specific location, sprinklers can be activated in the area instantly.
Fire doors, non-combustible materials, fire curtains and compartmentalised building design are examples of passive fire protection – any kind of “always on” fire protection built into the structure itself. Fire doors, made with fire resistant materials, act as self-closing seals.
By combining education, active and passive fire protection, every high rise building can
Rising High Above Fire
At Coopers Fire, we’re always developing, testing and improving our products – to keep us at the peak of fire safety in a growing world.
To find out more about our products and services, or to enrol in one of our educational training courses, call us on 02392 454 405 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.