Understanding the importance of passive fire protection

Building owners and operators have always played a vital role in ensuring the fire safety of their properties. However, with the Fire Safety Act 2021[1]  becoming law this April, the responsibilities of those managing multi-occupant residential buildings are now more stringently defined. It states that they are accountable for reducing fire risk of the structure and external walls, and any entry doors between flats and communal areas. Although we are still waiting for the updated guidance to be released, it is imperative that housing associations of all kinds get to work now to ensure the safety of their tenants, including ensuring effective passive fire protection.

What is passive fire protection?
Passive fire protection is a legal requirement in many instances for both domestic and non-domestic buildings under Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (Fire Safety).
It is typically built into the building structure and works by containing the spread of fire, heat, and smoke by creating areas of manageable risk using fire-resistant materials and gap-filling measures. This approach is known as compartmentation. This is primarily to contain the fire to a location, to allow the fire service to tackle the fire, it also helps to protect escape routes and prevent further property damage. As the name implies, PFP does not need any input to work, but it is vital that it is specified and installed properly. Solutions encompass an array of products, from fire doors to cavity barrier and firestops installed within the wall cavities which can, if left unprotected, act as a chimney for flames, smoke, and heat to spread into other building compartments.

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Do I need both passive and active fire protection systems?
Exactly what fire protection measures need to be taken will be dictated by the specifics of the building and the project. However, in general, PFP and active fire protection (AFP) systems which are designed to detect and control, such as fire/smoke alarms and sprinklers, can be employed together to create a comprehensive fire safety plan. Indeed, this combination may be mandatory on some properties, for example sprinklers are now a legal requirement for all new residential building over 11m[2].

To ensure any fire protection systems work together effectively, they should be considered in the earliest design stages, particularly PFP which can be difficult and costly to install retrospectively.

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What should I look out for when choosing passive fire protection products or systems?
Like any building solutions, PFP products should be appropriate for the application and achieve the right level of performance for the project. Clear and accurate product data should be available to help assess their suitability. This should include details of third-party tests or accreditations to provide assurance that the performance stated by the manufacturer is what it will achieve in the event of a fire. Often, a manufacturer’s technical service teams can also help to provide guidance on the best solutions for a particular project or issue.

It is also vital that PFP systems are installed correctly. As these systems are hidden away within the building’s construction, it can be difficult for building safety assessors to pick up on faulty installations. It is therefore critical to employ installers who can demonstrate their skills and competency. Specifiers can also support contractors by choosing products from manufacturers that offer comprehensive technical and site services, helping them to correctly fit the products as well as assessing and auditing their work.

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Hidden defence
Building safety must be of the highest priority for all kinds of housing associations. By taking the time to understand the importance of passive fire protection and what to look for when finding the right solutions, building owners and managers can make sure they are taking the right steps to ensure their building is compliant and their occupants are safe.

For more information and guidance on passive fire protection, please visit the website


[1] Read the full Fire Safety Act 2021 here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2021/24/section/3/enacted

[2] Fire Protection Association (27 May 2020) ‘Sprinkler to be Required in 11m Residential Buildings’: https://www.thefpa.co.uk/news/sprinklers-to-be-required-in-11m-resident…