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We must have detailed and unambiguous fire test evidence 

One of the most troubling revelations from the Grenfell enquiry was the way in which fire test evidence, in some cases damning, was reinterpreted or withheld to the extent that those responsible for designing, constructing and delivering the building safely, could not possibly know that what they were doing was supported by relevant and compelling evidence.

Much has been said, in the years since Grenfell, about the importance of evidence in justifying the use of construction products. Greater scrutiny has been placed on manufacturers to publish detailed and unambiguous information of the product’s field of application. Designers, and anyone with direct responsibility for delivering safe buildings, need to have the confidence that manufacturers are not putting square pegs in round holes or stretching the field of application from the test evidence to fit the project requirement.

Competency levels need to rise throughout the supply chain 

In my experience, we are still very far from instilling that confidence. Competency levels throughout the supply chain are not where they need to be. Those representatives of the product manufacturers offering the product against a specification may not be fully aware of the correct field of application. Indeed, they may never have seen the primary supporting evidence behind it. Products being sold on the basis of a third party form of certification or technical assessment based on test evidence, may have certain aspects of its performance approved individually, but not in conjunction with other approved aspects. It may not be easily identifiable from the narrative in the document whether this is the case. Inevitably, products are being proposed where they are outside their evidenced field of application.

A holistic approach to design and procurement is key

Design and procurement is not holistic, meaning that several critical products in the provision of compartmentation are managed individually without the holistic approach which would ensure that they all work effectively together. Critical in this relationship is the interface between elements of construction, for example where the main compartment wall structure is providing direct support for a fire door or a fire resistant glazed screen. The key construction aspects of that interface will have been proven by fire test of the construction product being supported, not that providing the support. So while the construction of the wall to provide the specified compartmentation will be very familiar to those managing and building it, the chances are that they will not be familiar with the critical requirements of the door or screen.

The reality is painfully clear. Designers and contractors do not yet have the necessary levels of competency to properly interpret the assurances being given for the performance of construction products and in too may cases, those suppliers further down the supply chain lack the proper understanding of their own products’ field of application.

The only way to ensure that specifications are correctly made and understood, and for holistic construction to correctly build compartmentation, is for the critical supporting evidence to be made available to those who are responsible for ensuring that the regulatory requirements are met. We must encourage a mature approach to sharing evidence upstream. How often is there really such a conflict of interest that manufacturers need to hide behind confidentiality and IP protection?

Leading through collaboration 

At Optima, the approach is very much one of collaboration. We recognise that designers and contractors need high level technical support, and we are fortunate to have a very experienced team to provide it. We are also well-supported by a network of highly qualified experts in the field of fire resistance testing and certification to bring additional credibility to our technical advice.

Decision makers in the project team need to have all the relevant data available to them and their fire engineers to enable them to confidently select passive fire protection systems. Optima has a policy of collaborative disclosure and will work with specifiers and contractors to ensure they are properly informed.  

Peter Long, Fire & Certifications Director

Fire and Certifications Director, Peter Long

Peter is dedicated to promoting accurate and responsible product marketing, and it is his mission to raise industry standards in all facets of the glazed partitioning sector. For more than 20 years, he has been a member of the Optima Group, where he oversees the technical support staff at Optima and is in charge of testing and certifying our whole product range, with a special emphasis on fire rated equipment.

He believes it is our duty as an industry to provide adequately established specifications and to uphold those standards throughout the entire project cycle, including design, production, and installation. Peter makes it his business to be very familiar with Optima’s products, offering clients complete confidence in the outcome.

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