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It is critical that modern buildings are designed to take into account all relevant design fire scenarios. Both passive and active systems need to be tested accordingly, and with little margin of safety for failure, specified and installed correctly.

Modern high-rise constructions may well push the design envelope and change the landscapes across our cities, but the consequences of fire spread in very tall buildings are extremely high. While acceptable levels of risk need to be proactively identified, it is critical that buildings be designed accordingly, taking into account all relevant design fire scenarios. Both passive and active systems need to be tested accordingly, and with little margin of safety for failure, they should be specified and installed correctly. It is ultimately a collective decision between a team of people - from the designer to the mechanical engineer, the fire risk assessor to the security specialist.

Fire should not be considered in isolation and in any design, all credible scenarios –whether evacuation, containment, fire resistance or suppression – must be considered as a part of a holistic safety strategy. While it is all very well having a theoretical or documented fire engineering strategy, the reality on sites is that there is often a disconnect between the design, specification and installation phases, which raises questions about the ultimate effectiveness of the strategy in the first place.

New fire code

In a bid to bring rules in line with global standards, new national fire regulations have recently come into effect in the UAE with the publication of the new Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice. This updated code is welcomed by the industry and takes a robust and comprehensive view on fire safety standards at all stages of construction. The code has placed greater requirements on curtain walling and cladding products, and introduces a thorough list of tests that must be conducted. While it represents in itself a challenge to all stakeholders, there are new stringent requirements with respect to installation and the quality of workmanship. It’s vital that all installations are ‘as-tested.’

High-rise and super high-rise equates to greater risk so it is imperative that systems that go into these buildings are tested accordingly, in the most demanding way, because there is little margin for failure. Of course, it is possible to test well. However unless the installation replicates that, you are introducing risk.

In the past, elements that are designed specifically to mitigate the fire are invariably left out or not actually installed properly. One particular element is the perimeter firestop which was often not installed correctly or there was a lack of compartmentation measures within large uninterrupted cavities behind cladding systems.

While the tough new regulations in Dubai, which are designed to prevent fires in high-rise towers, will certainly reduce risk and improve safety, it will be a challenge to the market to respond to these changes because contractors and consultants will be personally accountable for effective selection and use of materials.

Manufacturer perspective

For a company that is renowned internationally for its diverse range of fire-stopping insulation solutions, SIDERISE has a unique insight into the industry and the code. The company offers a range of innovative and industry-leading passive fire protection systems which provide compartmentation in high-rise buildings.

Commenting on the new revised code, Steve Swales, Chief Commercial Officer at SIDERISE said: “We have witnessed a large interest and uptake in system testing and have been involved in numerous tests to the various permissible standards.”

With respect to the fire performance of non-load bearing external cladding systems – whether applied to the face of building or fixed to and supported by a structural steel frame - SIDERISE has been involved in fire performance testing to the US standard NFPA 285 and British standard BS 8414 Parts 1 and 2, both of which are permissible with respect to the new UAE Fire and Safety Code of Practice.

This testing has been carried out by cladding panel suppliers of all types including aluminium cladding material and aluminium composite panel providers (ACP) – and separately in conjunction with thermal insulation stakeholders.

“The market has been stimulated to ensure that all systems are code-compliant,” added Steve Swales. “There has also been a rigorous evaluation of compliant barriers which fit within the various systems.”

Compliant solutions

The code states that cavity barriers shall be incorporated into façade design at every floor, horizontally and vertically, to restrict flame spread. There is also specific performance and location requirements including where the cavity is a necessary part of ventilated façade design and needs to be maintained.

In this case, ‘open-state’ cavity barriers are used which comprise advanced intumescent materials that allow ventilation and drainage in the cold state, but close in a fire, providing separation in the cavity. These have typically been included as horizontal barriers in recent tests for open joint cladding systems, in conjunction with full width seals used as vertical cavity barriers. In other closed-joint panel system tests, where there is no ventilation requirement, SIDERISE cavity barriers used both horizontally or vertically are full width seals which have also been tested with respect to the code.

While the new code will not be applied retrospectively, when existing buildings undergo maintenance, any cladding or system which is non-compliant to the current code will provide an opportunity to install compartmentation measures using cavity barriers, such as those provided by SIDERISE which lend themselves to retrospective installation.

It is recognised that the spread from floor-to-floor and over the façade of a building can lead to catastrophe. As well as providing greater requirements on curtain walling and cladding products all building products and systems will have to be independently tested, audited and certified by approved third party bodies. The code will also place new responsibilities on building owners to maintain the life safety measures within their buildings.

Once a fire safety strategy is in place, it needs to be managed and maintained through the life of the building, a crucial consideration when you consider a building occupier might change the building fabric or materials. Unless the strategy has ongoing review, every change to the building can potentially increase risk and jeopardise life safety.

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