25th September 2018
So What Exactly is ‘Fire Stopping’…?
You’ve recently had a fire risk assessment of your building carried out. Within the report you have been told by your fire risk assessor that there are gaps in “compartment” walls and floors throughout your premises which require “fire stopping”.
What exactly do they mean by this, and how should you go about fixing the problem?
Building designs generally focus on “passive fire protection” to restrict fire spread. This usually involves dividing a building into various fire resisting compartments with access to these areas being via suitable fire doors. The idea is that if a fire starts, it is contained to a particular area for a period of time, thereby allowing occupants to safely escape, and preventing the fire from spreading to the remaining areas of the building before being tackled.
Compartments are created by various types of fire resisting material which make up the walls, floors and ceilings and doors – basically creating a sealed box. Now all this sounds great in theory and works well when tested within a laboratory. The problem however, is that standards are usually not so good in the real world. Where there is a gap in a compartment it is referred to as a “breach”. This usually comes from poor construction works or during building alterations where pipework or cabling is passed between walls or floors.
It should be noted that not all buildings need fire compartments and if your site has a very simple layout or is low risk – then you may not require this at all. However, the general rule is that structure between the floors of a building should provide fire separation. If in doubt, ask your fire risk assessor or call our advice line on 0845 459 1724.
How Can You Spot Breaches?
When undertaking a fire risk assessment, the assessor will need to open every cupboard, service riser and plant room, to check the spaces around services, and to look for any holes where redundant pipes and cables may have been removed. They’ll also look for evidence of unsuitable materials used to plug gaps – recent examples of this have included expanding foam and bathroom silicone sealant!
It worth knowing where the compartment walls are within your building, so that you know which areas to monitor in the ongoing management of the building – your fire risk assessor will be able to tell you this during the assessment.
OK, I’ve Found Some Breaches, What Should I Do About it?
Fire compartments are designed to restrict the spread of fire and smoke in a building – but obviously they won’t work if there are gaps and holes. Firstly, don’t allow breaches to be filled up with non-fire resisting materials. This will only hide the problem or make it worse.
In order to address any breaches that have been discovered, there are various products available such as intumescent mastics, fire resisting expanding foams, pillows, pipe collars, batons and more. Be aware that the instructions for installation and limitations of products must be adhered to, otherwise they’ll fail early, and so it’s best to use a contractor for all but minor fixes.
Once you’ve fixed the historic problems in your building, make sure that further breaches aren’t created by your contractors and in-house maintenance staff.