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The Passive Fire Protection Federation (PFPF)

When talking to people from the industry outside the UK I have found that they are often confused by the large number of trade bodies that exist in the UK fire sector and their function. As Jon O’Neill pointed out at a seminar some time ago, he could list over 60 bodies in this sector and most of us spend more time on meetings and committees than we would wish.

The PFPF was founded some 10 years ago to provide a single point of contact on Passive Fire Protection (PFP) matters for Government Departments and Regulatory Authorities. Its intention was and is to provide a forum where those involved in the industry could agree common approaches to matters of mutual concern. In this respect it has been very constant and successful over these years and the members intend that it should continue to provide a suitable focal point.

The Nature of PFP

All materials used to construct buildings and other structures have a natural reaction to fire and the regulations require a known level of performance to ensure life safety for individuals. Because of this requirement people who build the framework, install doors and windows or the myriad of services that we require these days may, on occasion have to prove the fire performance of their part of the building. The fire performance requirement applies as a horizontal factor across all sectors of the construction industry and the membership of the PFPF clearly illustrates the wide diversity of trades that have to consider fire as part of their business.

Readers will see from the list of members shown in (Use side bar to show membership list?) that these are mostly either trade associations or bodies of a similar nature. They fall into two groups; full members and liaison members in order to provide the basic function for which the Federation was originally founded. Some of the bodies such as the ASFP or IFSA have fire as the major focus for their activities but most of the others may be euphemistically described as “ten-percenters” in that only a proportion of their work is fire rated and their main interest does not require such specialisation.

This fragmented nature of the PFP industry has led to problems of quality, particularly in installation that were found in the Partners in Innovation project completed earlier this year and reported on in the July issue of this magazine. The truth is that installers who do not see the fire rating of their work as a major issue, or manufacturers who see the requirement as an imposition of added cost that stops them getting orders, may pay insufficient regard to the requirement. The total spend on PFP in the UK is typically more than £1.2 billion (installed value) per annum but spread over some 10 or 12 different trade sectors.

It is in order to allow the bodies that represent these trades the opportunity to discuss the fire requirement, understand changes in testing or regulation and point out problems to regulatory authorities that the Federation exists.

Activities

Originally the Liaison membership included both the DETR and the Home Office (Fire Inspectorate) and even though these bodies are now both within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) they are still represented at meetings which are held 3 or 4 time per year as required by events. These meetings allow a passage of information to the industry on changes in Building Regulations or Workplace regulation and allow the officials to get a clear idea of the impact of planned changes.

Often, particularly with the growth of European legislation there are changes that require new test methods and performance standards and the Federation set-up allows discussion of such changes that are particularly valuable to the member bodies that are not concerned with fire as their major function. Similarly those regulators such as Building Control Surveyors, Trading Standards Officers and Fire Inspectors have a need to understand the complexity of new and existing legislation and performance standards where construction products are concerned.

One of the achievements of the Federation was co-operation across the membership in the provision at the Fire Service College of the “Passive Room” that allows the lecturers to illustrate with real examples the correct use of construction products with a fire performance requirement. The exhibits in this room and their function as teaching aids were designed by Ron Smith of the ASFP with assistance from Joan Lockyer of WFRC but through the member bodies of the PFPF materials and constructions illustrating such items as steel protection, doors, door furniture and fittings, glazing and ductwork were included.

When the UK representative attends the European Regulators Group meetings in Brussels he has a need to understand the implications for British Industry of any changes being proposed and the PFPF allows suitable opportunities for briefing in both directions. Similarly the activities of BSI in producing the required Testing and Performance Standards need to incorporate an understanding of the requirements of industry and recent meetings between PFPF representatives and BSI management have served to improve understanding in these matters.

The longest established sub-group within the PFPF is the Industry and Enforcement Authorities Liaison Group (IEALG) where PFPF representatives meet with inspection and regulatory bodies to discuss problems and offer solutions that assist both sides in their work. Publications emanating from this group through the Federation include “A Pocket Guide for Fire Test Reports & Assessments” aimed at Building Control Surveyors and others who have to approve the use of products and may be confused by the many reports and assessments presented by manufacturers. Also published is the “Guide to Undertaking Assessments in Lieu of Fire Tests” that provides an overview of the way in which particular performance of PFP products may be assessed when a fire test is either not available or not appropriate. Again this will help those who are presented with assessments to understand content and appropriateness of the document being offered as proof of performance.

The next publication that is being prepared will guide anyone concerned through the maze of paperwork that will be required to support CE marking of PFP products and this will be published later this year.

Another area of concern that is coming out of the European requirements and has not really been addressed in UK legislation is the interaction of different products when used together within a fire design. The Technical Group of the PFPF are considering the implications of this area of concern as it gives the specialists in differing areas of activity the opportunity to meet and consider where they provide information and guidance that will ensure that products are complementary in their extended application and assessment of performance.

Quality, Training and Trade

All the independent voluntary certification schemes in the PFP sector are members of the PFPF and the development of these schemes has given users the chance to utilise products and installation companies that have proven their competence. The availability of NVQ qualifications in PFP during the last 12 months has led to some re-thinking of the entry qualifications for installation staff into certification schemes and the Federation is considering how the use of these NVQs can be developed by discussions with the CITB.

The recently published guide “Ensuring Best Practice for Fire Protection in Buildings” which, although it is an ASFP publication was produced with the co-operation of members of the PFPF, is another example of how sectors of the industry are working together. The guide offers sources of information on all aspects of PFP in buildings and should assist anyone from the building owner or developer through the regulator, designer and installers to get the information they need for their work. Occupiers of buildings change the layout, services and occupation levels stating immediately they move in and this guide shows where to get help and information on how they can ensure that their risk assessments are sufficiently thorough to achieve the objective of protecting the occupants in the event of fire.

When, in 1999 the Fire Industry Confederation (FIC), with the Backing of the DTI, produced the first Trade Survey of the UK Fire Protection Industry the PFPF was a prime source of contacts that allowed the authors to get a complete picture of the industry. This was continued in the 2001 survey and gives a clear picture of the size and diversity of the industry. This survey is the only example in Europe of a measure being taken of the whole industry and of the proper co-operation between the active and passive sectors of the industry that makes up the FIC. Since the publication of that survey the FIC Export Council has been founded and offers a service to exporters of fire protection products that is an example to any UK industry. Industry based Trade Missions have visited countries in the Middle and Far East to promote exports and work through the PFPF contacts with BSI may well have further benefit to the export sector.

Conclusion

Every workman on a building is likely to have an influence on the fire safety provisions within that building. Every firm that installs services in a building undertakes alterations or maintains the structure of a building can influence the performance of that building in the event of a fire. If their role in these matters is understood they can do their jobs efficiently and halt the rising fire losses that we are currently seeing. The level of co-operation on matters of legislation and standards that we have seen in the PFPF over these last 10 years is an example of how industry and regulators can work together to improve matters.

It is often felt that the performance of the structure of a building in a fire is taken for granted because the Building Regulations require it to perform in a certain way and so it must have been constructed in that manner. Experienced property owners, particularly those that have had a fire or two, know that co-operation between tradesmen and material producers is essential if disasters are to be avoided. Current legislative thinking places the responsibility for fire safety firmly on the owner and/or the occupier. Insurers are likely to seek higher standards of compartmentation and structural stability if losses are to be reduced and the high rate of attrition in business continuity after major events should concentrate the minds of all business owners in the fire safety of their premises. The PFPF is working to promote co-operation across the PFP industry and regulatory interests to provide a firm platform for the construction and maintenance of fire safe buildings.

David P Sugden
Chairman, PFPF

 
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© Passive Fire Protection Federation 2005