UKCA certification deadline could compromise fire safety

The challenge of moving to the new UKCA product certification mark by the end of this year looks impossible to meet, potentially impacting fire safety across many sectors. The Fire Sector Federation reports

From January 1 next year, all new products in the UK must have a UKCA marking that has to be obtained at an appropriate test facility. The new mark replaces the European CE mark that no longer applies as a consequence of Brexit. Last Autumn, the Fire Sector Federation highlighted to government the need to avoid pitfalls that might create supply issues.

However, the government’s decision to stand by its one-year transition period deadline has been universally criticised across many sectors. Current proposals have been described as unworkable and expensive.

More recently, Peter Caplehorn, the Chief Executive of the Construction Products Association, warned of a situation that would see the construction industry rapidly run out of key materials next year because the UK does not have the capacity to test new products to the new standard in time. The Federation has indicated to the newly formed Office for Product Safety and Standards there are critical products that need urgent attention.

Despite the sector expressing its concerns, the government seems to be unwilling to acknowledge that the timescale to retest and certify thousands of products by the end of the year is simply unworkable. It suggests a lack of understanding of the complexity and volume of testing that is required. The problem is compounded by a distinct lack of detail in many areas, which has led to confusion and variance in the wide range of guidance from the new UK approved bodies.

In response to demands to extend the deadline by a further two years, the government has promised to “update guidance in due course and provide further clarity” while telling businesses to continue to prepare for the end of recognition of the CE mark.

An extension to the deadline is critical to fire safety. Without one, there is a significant risk that many fire protection products will have to be withdrawn, compromising fire safety. The Prime Minister’s ‘Build Back Better’ will become an instant misnomer as some construction material supplies dry up. With fewer certified fire protection products, we certainly will not be building back safer anytime soon.

The UKCA quality mark is an opportunity for the UK to lead the development of effective performance standards if given the time to be implemented properly.

Taking a long-term view, the Federation established a Product Assurance Group to draw on the wide range of knowledge and expertise available within its membership to examine the issues and support policy that will deliver effective solutions.

The group, which is working to develop understanding and meaningful recommendations for government and the sector, believes a commitment to continuing effective dialogue to improve understanding of the complexities is essential if we are to ‘raise the bar’ on product assurance for a safer built environment.

The Fire Sector Federation seeks to give voice to and exert influence in shaping future policy and strategy related to the UK fire sector. The Federation is a not-for-profit non-government organisation established to act as a forum for the benefit of its membership and to evolve as a central source of information on all aspects relating to fire.





What will it take to end a legacy of neglect?

FIRE’s Political Editor Catherine Levin joined Howard Passey from the Fire Protection Association to talk about fire safety post Grenfell in episode five of the Assembly Point podcast

Catherine and Howard spoke just before the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, and Howard wanted to know if Grenfell was a tipping point for change in the fire sector. Catherine agreed but said that the change had to be considered from many different perspectives.

She talked about how seeing fire all over the media for such a long time had really brought home to the public at large how neglecting fire safety can have such devastating consequences. Fire and rescue services had to take a long hard look at themselves to consider how they would have responded, what they could learn from it and what should change.

Grenfell has shown the importance of the Responsible Person under the Fire Safety Order and how those who construct and refurbish buildings cannot simply walk away once the job is done. And of course, the role of the government continues to be questioned; the regulatory regime that should have protected people and places has found itself wanting and remains under considerable scrutiny.

Reflecting on the Kings Cross fire from 1987, Catherine talked about the importance of public inquiries. After hearing 91 days of evidence, Sir Desmond Fennell’s report on the fire included 157 recommendations and resulted in new legislation within two years. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s task is much larger and so far, has seen only some changes to legislation and has a long way to go.

The recommendations from the Lakanal House fire were also the subject of discussion by Catherine and Howard. They talked about how this shows that recommendations for change can be made but they are not always followed up. Although they said that one of the Grenfell recommendations has already been implemented. Fire and rescue services have adopted fire escape hoods and they were seen in action at the New Providence Wharf high-rise fire in East London on May 7.

Catherine is particularly interested in scrutiny and talked to Howard about the role of the Housing Select Committee in holding the government to account. They talked about the tenacity and determination of the Committee Chair, Clive Betts MP. He wrote recently to the government to recommend that they scrap the current approach to funding remediation and set up a Comprehensive Building Safety Fund to cover all buildings and fire safety defects.

This led them to talk about the cladding scandal and the ability for grassroots campaigning to bring about change. They talked in glowing terms about the End our Cladding Scandal campaign. Since the podcast aired, Catherine spoke to campaigners in North West London who were protesting about the response of the developer Countrywide to remediating fire safety defects. She heard stories of young couples trapped in unsellable flats, unable to move to start families of their own.

The podcast was recorded shortly after the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard evidence from Carl Stokes, the fire risk assessor for Grenfell Tower. It prompted them to talk about competence and how important it is for those responsible for commissioning fire safety services to know what they need and to be assured that they are getting expert and qualified opinion.

Concluding their discussion, Catherine and Howard talked about the impact on the Fire and Rescue Service with increased involvement of fire inspecting officers in the lifecycle of a building.

When the podcast was recorded, the Building Safety Bill had not been presented to parliament. Catherine expressed concern, shared by the likes of Roy Wilsher and Sir Ken Knight, that the devil will be in the detail of the secondary legislation and that is much less scrutinised. Catherine argued that this uncertainty will be an area of real concern for services whose budgets have been cut over many years along with the number of suitably qualified staff.

To hear the discussion, download the latest episode of Assembly Point from:

Assembly Point is part of the Know Your Building campaign from the FPA.

To listen to FIRE Editor Andrew Lynch’s thoughts on personal development and leadership in The Firefighters Podcast, visit:





Why failing to learn makes sense

Political Correspondent Catherine Levin reviews Catastrophe and Systemic Change by former Grenfell Tower resident Gill Gernick

Emerging out of the response to the tragic events of June 14, 2017 was a local resident who watched the Grenfell Tower fire from her balcony and joined the throngs of people doing anything they could to help in the streets below.

Gill Kernick lived in Grenfell Tower from 2011 to 2014, moving to the nearby iconic Trellick Tower in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where she still lives today.

In Catastrophe and Systemic Change, published by the London Publishing Partnership, Gill shares her own personal experience and professional expertise as a consultant working with high hazard industries. She dedicates her book to her former neighbours from the 21st floor who died in the fire.

Gill introduces the concept of the ‘messy kaleidoscope’ and argues that a failure to learn makes sense. Through the book she describes her Grenfell Model for Systemic Change focused on structures, behaviours, relationships and context.

She distinguishes between piecemeal change (which she says most of the media is interested in) and systemic change, which is in the realm of politicians and those in senior leadership positions.

She is not optimistic about learning from incidents. ‘I am increasingly of the view that learning is impossible and that developing resilient systems is therefore extremely challenging.

‘I have come to believe that the condition holding our inability to learn in place is, at its heart, a lack of political intent and will’. Expecting systemic change from politicians may be a fruitless endeavour, she argues, as the issues are too complex, the risk of losing power too high and that changing the status quo can be unpopular.

She spends time in the book questioning the regulatory environment in which we live and the ‘myth that regulations keep us safe’. She grounds her analysis in theoretical models with strange names like the ‘bad apple’ theory and notions of ‘making the water visible’. She has concerns about regulations as a political response to catastrophe, resulting in an increase in bureaucracy and ‘a focus on blind compliance, which will not only fail to guarantee safety but may actually hinder it’.

She adds: ‘An over reliance on prescriptive and traditional regulatory approaches will not lead to systemic change. Rather, developing our capability to deal with complexity offers the opportunity to disrupt the status quo’.

There is an interesting point in the book about how those who helped create the regulatory system are now the ones working to enable change. Gill says she is not questioning anyone’s integrity or qualifications rather making the point that if the same voices are heard then there is no diversity in thought in making the changes that are required. ‘I would argue that more diversity is needed in the post-Grenfell response, but culturally that is not welcomed’.

Towards the end of the book, Gill asks why think tanks are not doing more to track progress on implementing the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The Home Office is now publishing quarterly updates on implementation, but they are not self-critical and lack depth. There are millions of words of Inquiry transcripts begging to be analysed to assist in understanding what can be learned from the Grenfell Tower fire.

Gill questions the effectiveness of well-intended forums and reports. ‘I’m not sure how much it is leading to change, or how much it unintentionally sustains the status quo by leaving the public with the illusion that something will happen because an important institution has published a new report’.

She is right on this last point; the history of major incidents is littered with reports that contain recommendations that are not always fully implemented and end up sitting on dusty shelves. Let us hope someone in the government takes the time to read Gill’s thoughtful book and reflect on why a failure to learn makes sense and perhaps prove her wrong by providing some novel solutions.





BFireSafe@School project offers new fire safety education programme for post primary students in Europe

CFO Finian Joyce, County Leitrim, Ireland, reports on a newly developed teacher-led fire safety education resource for students in Europe

The BFireSafe@School project is a newly developed teacher-led fire safety education resource for post primary students in Europe. A recent study carried out by the Federation of European Fire Officers (FEU) has found that fire safety education in school is focused mainly on younger children aged eight to nine and there are few programmes in place for older students in other European countries. BFireSafe@School is the first harmonised fire safety programme developed specifically for post primary schools across Europe.

Funded by ERASMUS+, this new programme has been developed to place student wellbeing and personal safety at the centre of learning. The resource aims to ensure that students aged 12-18 learn the knowledge, skills and attitude necessary to keep themselves and others safe from fire.

The programme was developed by a project consortium of nine partners in seven EU countries: Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Lithuania and Spain. The lead partner is Leitrim County Fire Service and the Project Coordinator is Finian Joyce, Chief Fire Officer.

The production of the content was a collaboration between teachers, fire personnel, an educational consultant and an ICT company specialising in online learning that took place over two years. We received assistance from leading fire safety organisations worldwide such as UL and NFPA in developing the content. It was pilot tested in several post primary schools in Ireland before being rolled out more extensively in schools across Europe. The pilot test was launched by Minister Eoghan Murphy TD, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The programme has been endorsed by FEU and the Association of Teacher Education in Europe. It is available in ten languages: English, Irish, Basque, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian and Spanish.

BFireSafe@School is a short course that consists of ten units suitable for various age groups, Junior Cycle (12-15), Transition Year (16) and Senior Cycle students (17-18).

The Units are as follows:

Unit 1 – Managing Myself – the Safe Person Concept

Unit 2 – Fire Science

Unit 3 – Fire Safety Indicators

Unit 4 – Case Studies – learning from past incidents

Unit 5 – Calling the emergency services

Unit 6 – Fire Safety in the Home

Unit 7 – Fire Safety in School

Unit 8 – Fire Safety in your Environment

Unit 9 – Emergency Action Plans

Unit 10 – Careers in Fire

It can be integrated into existing subjects on the school curriculum, such as Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), Wellbeing, Science and Career Guidance. With its availability in multiple languages, it can also be used as an additional language resource by language teachers. It is available in a variety of formats and uses innovative digital technologies to deliver the programme including an augmented reality app called FireSmartAR (which can be downloaded from the App store), a virtual reality app, an online gaming app called Rescue Heroes, use of robots, science experiments, videos on fire science, a school evacuation video and information on careers in fire. All the content is available within a specially developed learning management system.

Log into the BFireSafe@School website to get access, You can register as fire personnel, teacher or student/other.

The BFireSafe@School programme is free, easy to use and requires no previous knowledge.

The learning experienced will be of enormous benefit to students in their everyday lives. It will enhance students’ wellbeing throughout their lives and empower them with the necessary skills to be responsible and safe citizens. At the end of each unit students complete short online assessments and certification is available.

To assist teachers in delivering the programme, a Teachers Handbook has been produced with additional resources and tips for use in class and online. Fire personnel will also support teachers in delivering aspects of the progamme in school.

For teachers who wish to use this exciting new resource, CPD is being offered in two separate certified online training workshops on September 15 and 22. If you wish to obtain information on these workshops, please contact the Project Coordinator Finian Joyce CFO at

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Passive fire protection for structural steel elements

With complex design demands coming to the fore and project costs and timescales at risk, Coral Morgan, Product Manager, Fire Protection at Rockwool UK, explores how non-combustible insulation could be the solution to delivering seamless structural fire protection strategies that also satisfy additional requirements

As our cities grow taller and more ambitious, steel frame construction is supporting the architectural agenda to develop lighter, versatile spaces that facilitate efficient and effective construction programmes.

As per building regulations guidance, buildings with a structural steel core must be designed so that their ‘stability will be maintained for a reasonable period’ in the event of a fire. Whilst this is essential when approaching construction, navigating additional building performance factors, such as thermal and acoustic demands, from the outset can contribute to overall performance, whilst reducing delays to site programmes.

Regulations and Requirements

Approved Document B (ADB) emphasises that when designing buildings with a structural steel core, structural elements should be capable of withstanding effects of a fire for appropriate periods of time, without loss of stability.

As steel heats up, its load bearing strength can significantly diminish at approximately 550°C. Sections of structural steel each have a ‘limiting’ or ‘critical’ temperature depending on the application area and loading required of the structural element.

These limiting temperatures are not fixed, and vary according to the level of exposure, temperature and load, making it even more important that designers account for a range of possibilities. Furthermore, ADB’s requirements differ depending on alternative building factors such as its size, height, use and occupancy, but ultimately the building is required to maintain its resilience for a reasonable period.

Additionally, as net zero and carbon reduction are high on the construction agenda, thermal performance is not only integral to meeting Approved Document L (ADL), but also a key consideration for increasing energy efficiency.

With this criteria in mind, it is considered best practice to balance design compliance and performance standards in the early specification stages when it comes to steel frame construction. Using non-combustible insulation materials, such as stone wool, can support building performance beyond fire protection, enabling designers to harness wider benefits by offering a structural fire protection solution that also meets thermal and acoustic requirements.

The Power of Stone

Stone wool is manufactured from molten rock, an abundant natural resource. As an insulation material, it delivers acoustic and thermal benefits that can help designers avoid costly remedial work to rectify issues like thermal bridging or structure-borne sound transmission.

ROCKWOOL stone wool can withstand temperatures greater than 1,000°C and does not contribute to the release of toxic gases or spread of a fire. With its thermal properties, this insulation material can be used to support the fire protection strategy of a steel section and extend its load bearing period. For example, solutions such as the ROCKWOOL FIREPRO® BEAMCLAD® System offer up to four hours of fire protection for steel beams, columns, angles, channels and T-sections.

Beamclad systems are applicable to most methods of structural steel construction, and the flexibility offered by a choice of tested fixing methods assists specification. Moreover, designers can utilise complementary tested stone wool solutions to help maintain compartmentation at critical junctions within a building.

The selection of building products that have minimal environmental impact also contributes to the overall sustainability of a construction project. ROCKWOOL is a net carbon negative company with its stone wool insulation saving 100 times the energy consumed and CO2 emitted in its production1. Furthermore, through a dedicated recycling facility at its Bridgend site, ROCKWOOL has a well-developed circular economy model that feeds manufacturing waste back into a closed-loop production process, and utilises material waste from other industries.

Passive fire protection is integral in structural steel buildings. Ensuring the construction meets the requirements of ADB and the facility stays secure enough to allow for the egress of occupants and entry of firefighting teams is the driving requirement behind building design. That said, with increased focus on internal environments and a building’s acoustic and thermal performance, having a passive fire protection solution that delivers additional benefits from the outset can seamlessly navigate design challenges whilst balancing compliance criteria. Cladding structural steel beams in fire-tested stone wool insulation can help to safeguard performance in the event of a fire and maintain performance during operation from an acoustic and thermal perspective.