Documents to download

Tower block

Many factors can affect fire safety, including building design, choice and installation of construction products, building contents (which commonly include combustible materials), the use of appliances such as electrical goods, and the actions of occupants. This briefing focuses on construction products and considers how they are regulated, tested and classified.

Key Points

  • Construction products are tested in accordance with defined standards to see how they behave when exposed to fire. The resulting classifications help to ensure that the products selected for an application are appropriate.
  • Fires behave in a complex and unpredictable way. Classifications are used to benchmark products against each other but do not directly reflect behaviour in a real building fire.
  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, products can be classified under two systems: the National system (BS 476 series) and the European Reaction to Fire classification system (Euroclasses, EN 13501 series). Scotland has its own classifications, based on these two systems.
  • The fire performance of construction products is assessed using standard tests. Tests can be used to assess a range of different properties, including combustibility, flame spread and fire resistance. Classification often involves using multiple tests in combination.
  • There are challenges specific to the testing of construction products, as well as wider issues associated with the Building Regulations that can affect the selection, installation and maintenance of products.
  • An Interim Report published in December 2017 by the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in England and Wales (led by Dame Judith Hackitt) highlighted a number of concerns, including: a lack of clarity about the roles and responsibilities of different parties; the complexity and lack of clarity of the regulations and guidance; a widespread use of certain assessments (‘desktop studies’) that is currently not properly managed; and inadequate means of ensuring competence and oversight of work.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders, and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group*
  • ARUP*
  • Association for Specialist Fire Protection*
  • Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors*
  • British Plastics Federation*
  • Building Research Establishment*
  • Centre for Curtain Walling and Cladding Technology*
  • Construction Products Association*
  • Dr Angus Law, University of Edinburgh*
  • Dr David Purser, Hartford Environmental Research
  • Dr David Rush, University of Edinburgh*
  • Dr Herodotos Phylaktou, University of Leeds
  • Dr Talal Fateh, Ulster University
  • European Commission*
  • Fire Brigades Union*
  • Fire Safe Europe*
  • Fire Sector Federation*
  • FM Global*
  • Home Office*
  • Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety*
  • Local Authority Building Control*
  • National Assembly for Wales Research Service*
  • Prof Guillermo Rein, Imperial College London
  • Prof Richard Hull, University of Central Lancashire*
  • Royal Institute of British Architects*
  • Society of Fire Protection Engineers*

*Denotes those who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was invited to review this POSTnote but was unable to.


Documents to download

Related posts

  • POST has published 20 COVID-19 Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) for the UK Parliament. ARIs were identified using the input of over 1,000 experts. They were then ranked in order of interest to UK Parliament research and select committee staff, following internal feedback. Each ARI comes with a series of questions aiming to further break down each broad area. The ARIs focus on the impacts of the global pandemic and range from economic recovery and growth, to surveillance and data collection, long-term mental health effects, education, vaccine development, and the NHS.

  • Machine learning (ML, a type of artificial intelligence) is increasingly being used to support decision making in a variety of applications including recruitment and clinical diagnoses. While ML has many advantages, there are concerns that in some cases it may not be possible to explain completely how its outputs have been produced. This POSTnote gives an overview of ML and its role in decision-making. It examines the challenges of understanding how a complex ML system has reached its output, and some of the technical approaches to making ML easier to interpret. It also gives a brief overview of some of the proposed tools for making ML systems more accountable.

  • A heat network provides heating and hot water to an apartment, commercial site or series of buildings close together. It can also provide cooling. There is interest in using them to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. This POSTnote looks at the technology of heat networks and their sources of heat. It looks at considerations when building new networks. It also outlines a potential future market framework.