As we look around the modern office, factory, or work place it is difficult to imagine the complete array of services that are required to allow such places to function. Lighting, power supplies, computer networking and telephone cables are just some of the many electrical services that exist out of sight, serving the work place.
These complex service installations need special consideration to ensure that fire and smoke can be contained and cannot spread through the building via the service layout.
Building Regulations and statuary requirements govern the constructional aspects of a building by its design and use. Predominantly with regard to fire safety such regulations and requirements determine the structure and function of the construction to minimise fire spread. Compartmentation and separation of occupancies and functional hazards and the provision of protected means of escape is provided by the walls, ceilings, floors and fire doors of the building. These are graded by their fire resistance and are designed by fire engineering principles, based upon direct test evidence.
By making a building functional with the addition of all the required electrical services needed, the designed compartmentation will undoubtedly have become breached.
Approved Document ‘B’ ‘Fire Safety’ recommendation to the Building Regulations describes the requirements for the protection of openings and fire stopping of compartmentation elements. This document states that any openings through a compartmenting construction element should be kept as few as possible, as small as practical, and be ‘fire-stopped’. However, in mentioning ‘fire stopped’ it lists some approved materials which in certain circumstances may be unsuitable e.g. for use in stud partitioning, (and prove inappropriate for allowing additional services). Any test evidence for a proven system needs to be checked to see whether it matches the intended use.
The substantial increase in the use of computers and the number of communication cables being laid during construction and during the life of a building increases the potential fire load of the building. Work carried out by both the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and Loss Prevention Council (LPC) laboratories has shown that the fire performance of many communication cables is such that significant fire damage may be anticipated.
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