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FIRE & SECURITY Fighting fire


In 2005 fire fighter, Jeff Wornham died having become entangled in cables in the lobby of a fourteenth floor flat in Stevenage. Six years later, Richard Shaw of Ellis Patents says there is still a chance a similar tragedy could occur.


T


he use of fire rated cables has increased significantly in recent years and when you consider they are designed with the aim of ensuring the continuation of essential services during emergencies you would think this should attract nothing but praise – sadly not.


A cause for concern


The issue causing concern isn’t the cables, but their restraint. In order for them to work in an emergency they need to remain intact and in place, something that can’t be guaranteed without the use of restraints that have the same fire resistant properties as the cables.


So what can be done and, more


importantly, what has been done since Mr Wornham’s death? Looking at what’s occurred it’s fair to say that the tragedy spurred the electrical industry on the road to putting its house in order. With BS5839-1 (2002) ‘Fire detection and alarm systems for buildings’ being updated with the aim of embracing new practices and technology. What this addendum (A2:2008) failed to


deliver was a cut-off point at which time concerns about the correct restraint of newly installed fire-rated cables end. Instead, we’re left in a position where there are question marks hanging over new installations as well as those dating back to pre-2008.


Lack of education


Take new installations. Everybody knows that what is specified and what is installed often differs – a situation made possible by the inclusion of the phrase ‘or similar’ in so many specifications. Tie this installation loophole to a lack of education when it comes to the correct restraint of cables and you find yourself in a situation where contractors and installers have the perceived freedom to cut costs on products they see as nothing more than electrical sundries.


Compounding this is the fact that building completion certificates can be installer certified, which means there is no scope for an objective third party to check electrical systems and ensure they meet all relevant safety guidelines and regulations. What makes the need to rectify things so


pressing is that there is a growing reliance on active fire safety systems serviced by fire rated cables. Today’s developments tend to be bigger, taller and more complicated than their predecessors. There are more large open spaces that can’t be protected by traditional fire doors and shutters, and there are numerous floors that need to be reached by fire fighter and evacuation lifts. All of which means the need for systems consisting of sprinklers, alarms, fans, emergency lighting and power that are guaranteed to continue operating for a specific length of time in a fire is higher than ever before. But still fire engineers check new


developments and find the cables for these potentially life-saving systems restrained by nothing sturdier than plastic ties.


Enforcement The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 gave the fire service the ability to serve a fire safety enforcement notice on any property. But the sheer logistics of serving enough orders and carrying out enough checks means reliance on this regulation and the fire service to eradicate the problem is a forlorn hope. All of which leads us right


back to where we started – i.e. knowing what the problem is, but not having


28 BUILDING SERVICES & ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER OCTOBER 2011


a recognised way of resolving it. I feel the best means of progress is to educate with the intention of changing industry practice. The market as a whole needs to know what kind of products can be installed to deliver safe installations and, conversely, what should be avoided.


The first thing that needs to be taken into account is that there is no such thing as a fire-rated cleat. Or, to put it better, there is no agreed test for a cleat to be put through in order to rate its performance in fire. To date, this has been circumnavigated by installing cast iron cleats, which provide the necessary safety reassurances due to cast iron’s high melting point. Unfortunately, the cost of cast iron


the onus is on cable and cleat manufacturers to ensure the availability of pre-tested products that deliver the necessary safety guarantees. In order to achieve this, cleats need to undergo the same rigorous testing procedure that the cables are put through, or be tested on the cables and sold alongside them as British Standard approved solutions.


Time to review


Existing installations pose a different set of problems. Huge numbers will have been installed


pre-2008 meaning the likelihood of them being deemed safe will be


slim. Therefore, the only possible course of action is to call for all building owners to undertake a review of


makes this solution too expensive. The 2008 addendum did address the issue, but it’s hard to


expect installers and contractors to start referring to the standard on site. Therefore,


any active fire safety systems and ensure that the cables powering them are properly restrained. To me it is common sense. If you’re installing any active fire safety system it is pointless investing in expensive fire rated cables if you’re then going to cut corners when it comes to their restraint – especially when those corners could prove so costly in terms of health and safety.


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