The Australian Modern Building Alliance (AMBA) outlined a holistic approach to the fire safety in buildings at the Fire Conference 2021 Conference & Tradeshow yesterday.
Speaking via video from Brussels as a guest of AMBA, Modern Building Alliance (MBA) Executive Chair, Quentin de Hults, highlighted seven layers of fire safety in buildings and a proposed European regulatory framework known as BIO – covering building, installation, and organisational requirements for fire safety in high-rise buildings.
“Each fire victim is one too many. Thankfully, fire safety has substantially improved across recent decades,” said Mr de Hults.
“Current data indicates the number of deaths from fire-related incidents in the European Union has been steadily declining since 1979 – despite an increasing and ageing population. The trend is similar in Australia and North America.”
Mr de Hults said understanding the factors that influence building fires is key to improving fire safety.
“Most building fires are preventable and start with the contents of the dwelling, rather than its construction materials. We need to address the issue holistically and focus on prevention.”
To demonstrate this – and the benefits of applying fire safety requirements at the BIO levels – Mr de Hults highlighted best practice from the United Kingdom and Estonia, where prevention has been at the core of fire safety strategies for buildings, and has achieved significant reductions in fire-related incidents.
Addressing the fire safety of building facades (one element of the BIO regulatory framework), Mr de Hults reinforced the need for a performance-based design approach with large-scale fire testing to adequately assess the fire behaviour and safety of facade systems.
“Large-scale system testing must be used, regardless of the combustibility of individual components,” Mr de Hults said.
“Consideration also needs to be given to all elements of the facade system. For example, fire barriers in cavities are essential for ventilated facades.”
He also noted that it is the joint responsibility of professionals across the building and construction value-chain – including fire engineers and product manufacturers – to ensure quality and compliance with fire safety codes and regulations.
“Creating modern buildings that are safe, sustainable and enduring requires a whole-of-industry approach. Because fire safety is a prerequisite for energy efficiency and sustainability, the involvement of fire engineers should be strengthened during building design, construction and maintenance.”
“To support fire safety, product manufacturers contribute to robust product standards, maintain high levels of quality control, and classify and label their products in line with the codes and standards. They provide detailed and up-to-date information about their product performance, installation and use guidelines, and contribute to the training of building planners and product installers.”
Mr de Hults highlighted the role and benefits of collaborative information exchange in the European Union as a contributor to improved fire safety in buildings in the region, and the importance of continued professional development.
“The European Fire Information Exchange Platform (FIEP) has been established to share information and key learnings related to fire safety. An equivalent initiative in Australia would undoubtedly help further fire safety in buildings,” he said.
“Professional development must be a focus for the building and construction sector. People in these industries need fire safety knowledge and competencies, and to know when to involve a fire engineer.”
Importantly, the implementation of these fire safety codes and regulations relies on strict enforcement, inspection and maintenance.
“Existing buildings must be the subject of regular inspection and maintenance by skilled and competent professionals that will ensure that systems continue to perform in line with all relevant codes and retain their integrity,” Mr de Hults said.
Adding to Mr de Hults’ presentation, AMBA Chair, Dr Craig Lovel, recommended that Australian building codes maintain performance-based design and large-scale system testing of actual facades to ensure best use of all materials in buildings that are safe, sustainable and energy-efficient.
“The information presented by the MBA highlights that a holistic approach is needed for fire safety in buildings and that prevention is multifaceted and goes beyond individual materials to include a more integrated system,” said Dr Lovel.