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Fire Safety: The Role of Materials in the Built Environment
- Sep 12, 2019
- Latest News
Over two years have passed since the Grenfell Tower fire and the enquiry into the causes, lessons learnt and steps to be taken continues. The construction materials industry faces the need to continue improving its solutions and work with its partners in the supply chain. These range from certification and testing experts to architects and engineers, through the public sector including regulators, the emergency response services and local authorities; and associations speaking for residents, managers and owners.
The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) will make its contribution to the search for solutions by bringing together the distinctive experience of a panel of experts at a one-day symposium on Fire Safety: The Role of Materials in the Built Environment, to be held in London on 3 October 2019.
It is inevitable that issues central to the Grenfell tragedy will be prominent in the discussions, but our aim is not to “parallel” in some way the process of enquiry. Rather, we wish to bring different experts together to collaborate in analysing some of the key drivers of risk and exploring possibly promising solutions. The event will focus on not just the building envelope but also the structure, and buildings from residential to public infrastructure.
The agenda includes a presentation from Bart Kavanagh of forensic architectural experts firm Probyn Miers. Bart will look at the scope for risk mitigation, the current regulatory framework and the potential consequences of where it lies open to ambiguity; and at where responsibility sits in the delivery of complex construction projects. Reference will be made to issues highlighted by the Hackitt report including the capturing of information – on an ongoing basis - for all higher risk buildings – the so-called “Golden Thread”.
The management of information through the lifecycle of a building, for instance capturing the potential consequences of repurposing, appears to be a key area for improvement. In planning the event at IOM3, one of the industry experts steering the discussion made a comparison with aircraft maintenance, in terms of the mindset and ambition that may be needed.
Tom Parker, a Senior Fire Engineer with Arup experienced in assessing the compliance of external wall and cladding materials on expert legal cases, will provide his perspective on where regulation, materials classification and testing, and the interpretation of tests may leave open gaps or possible contradictions.
Speakers will also include façade experts able to bring the insurer’s, consultant’s and industry perspective with the participation of Clive Everett, Façade Technical Standards Director at MD Insurance Services; Tudor Pop, Head of the Façade Consultancy Department at CBRE; and David Metcalfe, Director at the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology, which enjoys a cross-cutting membership in terms of functional skills and materials. To pick a few highlights from this panel’s contributions to the day’s discussions, Tudor will consider the increased risk arising from increased “system” complexity in façade design; David will tackle the crucial distinction between compliance at the level of the “material” and at the level of composite systems; and Clive’s presentation will bridge a focus on what needs to change with a look at some “future-proofing” steps in prospect.
This provides a cue for the afternoon panel, looking ahead at the tools and possible promising steps for further improvement. Professor Jennifer Wen of the University of Warwick, UK, the founder of its multidisciplinary Warwick FIRE research laboratory, will discuss the role of Computational Fluid Dynamics in modelling how façade systems can resist the spread of fire. Dr. Marina Fernando of TARRC will present a case study of innovative material deployment from the infrastructure segment – a rubber-based low smoke, low toxic emission material used in the London Underground.
There will be opportunity for audience interaction, which, it is hoped may identify other developments in high-profile, “maximum failsafe” infrastructure to be scaled across to the commercial, residential and mixed use built environment.
Also widening the focus from the building envelope, we will have two experts in steel framed and steel/composite structure fire safety, respectively from the steel and the fire-protection coatings industries: Walter Swann of ArcelorMittal and Leon Sullivan of AkzoNobel. There are technical parameters to progress in this area, such as the evolving of design codes and practices in structural steel. But there is also what might be called the human factor, the approach in terms of when safety-critical decisions may be best made in the design and construction cycle. I believe that Walter and Leon between them will provide insight into both sides of this search for best practice.
Paolo Berbotto is Principal Consultant at Farnborough Engineering Consultants (FEC) and a member of the IOM3 Construction Materials Group, on behalf of which he will be moderating the symposium, to be held at 297 Euston Road, London, NW1 3AD on 3 October. For more details of the event and to register see