Licensed Installers for Lightweight Passive Fire Systems including Exterior Cladding
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Are you or your loved ones living in a Death Trap?
Further to the Grenfell Tower Fire which occurred on June 14th 2017 in London which has claimed at least 79 people (to date 30/06/2017) and the Docklands Apartment Fire on November 2014 in Melbourne, it was fortunate that there were no fatalities in the Melbourne Fire. The Aluminium Composite Cladding has been determined to be at fault for the quick spread of the fire. Facade cladding among other materials are of grave concern to the public.
What's the Problem?
The public is at risk to non-compliant (incorrectly installed or untested fire systems). These systems are part of all public and private building to ensure safety to the public. There is a severe lack of education among installers of these systems and builders generally. In my experience some people believe that because a "fire rated product" has been installed that the system is automatically fire rated and compliant. Some installers believe that they know best and deviate from the installation manuals which have been constructed based on the required testing. It is also widely believed that once a building has been completed, that passive fire systems do not require maintenance or inspections. Buildings move through seasonal changes; expansion and contraction of materials; warping and twisting; water damage; soil movement; vibrations from adjacent construction; owners and maintenance disturbing and penetrating walls due to a lack of knowledge; All of the different building materials moving at different rates can result in movement, sometimes severe and cracks occurring, resulting in an entry point for fire and hot gases. The passive fire system may have been compliant upon completion of construction, however any of these events could render the occupants at risk.
What is a Passive Fire Protection System?
Passive fire protection (PFP) is an integral component of the three components of structural fire protection and fire safety in a building. PFP attempts to contain fires or slow the spread, through use of fire-resistant walls, floors, and doors (amongst other examples). PFP systems must comply with the associated listing and approval use and compliance in order to provide the effectiveness expected by building codes. It is important to note that Active fire protection; Passive fire protection and Fire Prevention work together to create a compliant 'Passive Fire Protection System' overall. The prime objective is to prevent loss of life and maintain the structural integrity of the building whilst people evacuate and the fire is extinguished.
Fire protection in a building, offshore facility or a ship is a system that includes:
1) Active fire protection, which can include manual or automatic fire detection and fire suppression. Such as fire sprinklers, extinguishers and smoke/ thermal alarms.
2) Passive fire protection, which includes compartmentalization of the overall building through the use of fire-resistance rated walls, doors, HVAC penetrations, floors, ceilings and facades. Organization into smaller fire compartments, consisting of one or more rooms or floors, prevents or slows the spread of fire from the room of fire origin to other building spaces, limiting building damage and providing more time to the building occupants for emergency evacuation or to reach an area of refuge. They are also used as safe passages for Emergency services to enter a building. Depending on the building codes and the location of the nearest emergency services, fire engineers will determine how long each fire compartment or fire rated element needs to withstand a fire. In Traditional & Light Weight Passive Fire Protection requires various products and/ or components working together to prevent the spread of fire, these products are tested by the manufacturers as per the Australian Standards, no individual product is deemed to be fire resistant on it's own, it can not be substituted out without having been tested and deemed to satisfy.
3) Fire prevention includes minimizing ignition sources, as well as educating the occupants and operators of the facility, ship or structure concerning operation and maintenance of fire-related systems for correct function, and emergency procedures including notification for fire service response and emergency evacuation.
There is currently no regulations, licensing or certifications required to install any Passive Fire System in Australia. Any person claiming to be competent can be hired or contracted to install a fire system resulting in non-compliant fire walls being installed. There is also a big problem with unskilled 457 visa installers not having the adequate knowledge of how to read plans and manuals in English, understand the English language. The sad reality is that the incorrect installation of these products and systems occurs regularly, not necessarily deliberate, however if you are portraying yourself as a professional tradesman you are doing yourself and the public an injustice and as per news reports from London, could be facing manslaughter if such an event was to occur in Australia.
There is also too few building surveyors/ Certifiers available to provide the adequate checks, which are currently not compulsory. Documentation of what has been installed is extremely poor which prevents the Certifies, Surveyors, Builders, Owners and all others from being properly informed.
Solutions to Fix the Problem
1) Greater document control showing all materials, photos, systems, etc used
2) Education of all parties involved in the construction and renovation of any building and construction work
3) Compulsory Licensing requirements for all installers of Passive Fire Systems. This would include current trades such as Gyprockers (Plasterers/ Ceiling fixers)
4) Audits of Current Buildings under-construction and occupied buildings
5) Maintenance checks to include Passive Fire Systems (as per the BCA/ ASNZ)
6) Appropriate checks of Building elements as the building progresses - visual or photographic
Aluminium Composite Cladding is the material type - Alucobond; Novabond; Vitrabond are brand names. Suppliers generally sell "fire rated" and "non-fire rated" cladding which can be compliant based on how they are used and where they are used.
General Overview of Fire Protection: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_fire_protection
CSR Passive Fire Design: http://www.gyprock.com.au/Pages/Resources/Red-Book.aspx
Gtek Passive Fire Design: http://gtekplasterboard.com.au/wall-ceiling/fire-wet-area/
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