Fire Safety in high rise buildings: understanding the role of membranes (2023)

Every year an estimated 5,000 people die in residential fires across Europe, while about ten times that number are injured1. Since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017, the spotlight has fallen on fire safety in high rise buildings.

Fire safety in high rise & high risk buildings

Fires can be more dangerous in high rise residential buildings than in low rise homes. Why is this?

  • During a fire it is more difficult to evacuate occupants from tall buildings.
  • Fire and smoke tend to spread vertically.
  • It more challenging for fire services to fight fires in tall buildings.
  • Finally, if the external cladding of a high rise building features combustible materials, as was the case at Grenfell, it can cause a fire to spread quickly up its external surface. This is why it is important to specify non-combustible materials in high-rise facades.
Fire Safety in high rise buildings: understanding the role of membranes (1)

The Grenfell fire led to a review of the building regulations, chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt. Her review described the regulatory system for high rise buildings as “not fit for purpose”, and led to an initial ban on combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres high in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 11 metres in Scotland, along with other changes. This has now been reduced to 11 metres across the board, though these details are still subject to change.

What are high risk buildings for fire?

Approximately 80 per cent of deaths from fire occur in homes, according to the European Fire Safety Alliance. Tall residential buildings are regarded as a particular risk because of the potential for large numbers of fatalities.
This doesn’t just apply to conventional homes and apartments, but also to other types of building where people sleep, such as:

  • boarding schools
  • prisons
  • hotels and hostels
  • residential colleges etc.

Certain types of residential building, such as hospitals and care homes, are particularly vulnerable, because occupants may be unable to escape quickly. Many of these building types also have a high density of occupants, which is an extra risk factor.

Considering fire safety at design stage & fire safety engineering

Planning for fire safety from the earliest stages of design is critical for delivering a fire safe building.
There are multiple ways that proper design can reduce the risk of fire , including:

  • Designing out ignition sources
  • Limiting the amount of material that will burn in the event of a fire
  • Designing the building so that residents can escape safely in the event of a fire
  • Designing the building so that heat and smoke can be contained
  • Designing the building the so that it resists fire and maintains its structural integrity

The RIBA Plan of Work recommends considering whether specialist fire expertise is needed at the outset of your project. It says that a fire safety strategy should be integrated as soon as the building project is identified, and should continue right through to the post-occupancy management of the building, providing a “golden thread” of fire safety information throughout the building’s lifetime.

What is the difference between ‘reaction to fire’ and ‘fire resistance’?

When it comes to the fire safety of construction materials, two terms you frequently hear are ‘fire rated’ and ‘fire resistant’. But these terms are often confused.

The Euroclass system (EN 13501-1) measures ‘reaction to fire’ and assigns fire ratings for building materials on a scale from A1 to F. These ratings or classifications measure the extent to which a product will ignite and contribute to a fire. An A1 rated material is regarded as non-combustible. It will not cause a fire to spread, but this does not mean it will resist fire either.

Fire resistance testing, on the other hand, assesses the performance of construction elements for their load-bearing or fire separating properties – usually termed their fire resistance – for their regulated use in buildings. It is measured in the number of minutes of resistance the material can provide.

Read on to find out more about reaction to fire and fire resistance.

Euroclass ratings for external wall membranes in high-rise buildings

What does the ban on combustible materials in the external walls of high rise buildings mean in practice?

When specifying materials which become part of an external wall on buildings with a storey at least 11 metres above ground level we must consider if they need to achieve class A2-s1,d0 or above. Depending on the project location and building purpose different building regulations apply.

Membranes are one of the components in external walls that are exempt from meeting class A2-s1,d0. They are required to meet classification B-s3,d0. Whilst this is the requirement, we recommend when designing buildings that require a breather membrane, products that meet classification A2-s1,d0 should be considered from the outset. Breathable membranes such as Partel's EXOPERM DURO A1 or EXOPERM MONO DURO A2 could be specified.

Decoding the fire performance of building materials & membranes

Post-Grenfell, the primary means of evaluating the reaction to fire of construction products in the UK is the European Standard EN 13501 – ‘Fire Classification of Construction Products and Building Elements’. This represents a move away from the old British system BS 476.

The Euroclass system – what do the classifications mean?

EN 13501-1 outlines a series of fire tests and, depending on the results, a building product may achieve a reaction to fire classification on a scale from A1 to F. The standard provides additional classifications for the production of smoke and flaming droplets. A classification might be given as ‘A2-s3,d1’. But what does this mean?

The primary classifications are as follows:

A1Non-combustible material
A2Limited combustibility (England, Wales & NI); Non-combustible (Scotland)
BCombustible material - Very limited contribution to fire
CCombustible material - Limited contribution to fire
DCombustible material - Medium contribution to fire
ECombustible material - High contribution to fire
FCombustible material - Easily flammable

What do the s and d classifications mean?

Products are also given classifications for the production of smoke and flaming droplets. Flaming droplets result in burns and cause fires to spread. Smoke inhalation, meanwhile, is the leading cause of fatalities from fire.

Production of flaming droplets is classified as follows:

D0 = No droplets
D1 = Some droplets
D2 = Quite a lot of droplets

Smoke production is classified as follows:

S1 = Little or no smoke
S2 = Quite a lot of smoke
S3 = Substantial / heavy smoke

What is fire resistance?

Fire resistance measures the ability of a construction element to maintain its load bearing function (ie structural capacity), integrity (the ability to prevent flames and gases from passing through) and insulation function (the ability to prevent heat from passing through). These are denoted by the letters R, E and I respectively.

Fire resistance is measured in number of minutes. Sometimes figures are quoted separately, for example an R of 30 minutes and an E of 60 minutes, while sometimes an assembly may be quoted as having an REI of 100 minutes, which means the assembly provides all three functions for 60 minutes. Minimum periods of fire resistance for elements in different building types are given in the building regulations. Fire resistance is covered by EN13501-2, EN1366 and other related standards.

Standardised fire tests explained

EN-13501-1 outlines a range of tests to determine the fire classification of a product.

Ignitability test (EN ISO 11925-2) — E or F rating
The product is placed in a chamber and exposed to a gas flame. Depending on the time it takes to ignite and the speed with which the flame spreads, it may achieve an E or an F rating. If the product achieves a 30 second exposure, it may be eligible for a higher rating.

Single burning Item test (EN 13823) — B, C or D rating
A product may achieve a B, C or D rating depending on its performance in this test. The product is exposed to a small fire in a full size test room. The release of heat and smoke are measured, as are the production of droplets and spread of flames.

Gross heat of combustion test (EN ISO 1716) — A1 or A2 rating
This test is for products seeking an A1 or A2 rating. The material is ground to powder and set alight in an oxygen-filled container that is surrounded by water. Testers measure the change in the water temperature and based on this a calculation is performed to work out the gross heat of combustion, also known as calorific value. This is the total heat energy released when the material undergoes complete combustion in oxygen.

Non-combustibility test (EN ISO 1182) – A1 or A2 rating
This test is also for products seeking an A1 or A2 rating. The product is placed into a furnace at about 750 C, and temperature changes in the material are observed using sensors. The sample is observed for flaming, and the mass of the material is measured before and after.

Partel membranes for use in high rise buildings

Partel offers a variety of fire-rated membranes for use in high rise buildings, and recently launched two new fire-rated breather membranes, EXOPERM DURO A1 and EXOPERM MONO DURO A2.

Below is our list of high-rise suitable membranes and their ratings.

Breather membranes

  • EXOPERM MONO DURO A2 – A2-s1,d0
  • EXOPERM MONO DURO 200 — B-s1,d0
  • EXOPERM MONO SA 250 – B-S1,d0 (when affixed to a non-combustible material, otherwise Class E applies)

Vapour control layers

  • IZOPERM PLUS A2 – A2-s1,d0
Fire Safety in high rise buildings: understanding the role of membranes (2)

All of these Partel membranes meet UK regulations for high rise buildings. They also all achieve the highest possible classifications for production of smoke and flaming droplets, critical considerations for fire safety.

Of course, it is important to consider other performance factors when specifying a membrane, such as:

  • breathability
  • air permeability
  • UV resistance,
  • how the membrane is suited to your construction type

Best practice is to specify the membrane with the highest fire classification once all other key performance factors have been met.

Fire safety: a crucial parameter of building sustainability

The twin goals of fire safety and sustainability can sometimes appear to be in conflict. For example, the UK’s ban on combustible materials also restricted the use of timber — a lower carbon material than concrete or steel — in mid and high rise buildings. But ultimately, fire safety is a core principle of building sustainability. Why?

  • Fires shorten the lifespan of a building. A serious fire can require substantial parts of a building, or an entire building, to be rebuilt — generating all of the carbon emissions and pollution associated with the new construction.
  • Fires emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases into the air and nearby water bodies. One study found that warehouse fires in England release an estimated 135,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.2
  • Firefighting foams can pollute nearby water bodies
  • Demolition of fire-damaged buildings creates huge quantities of waste, some of which may be toxic.

“Fire resilience is currently the missing part of the sustainable buildings puzzle – a building is not truly sustainable if it can burn to the ground,” says Fire Safe Europe.

Fire safety in the retrofit drive

There is currently a major drive to retrofit buildings across Europe. The EU’s Renovation Wave aims to renovate up to 35 million buildings by 2030. Meanwhile, the UK government wants all homes to achieve an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of C by 2035.

The retrofit drive offers an opportunity to improve the fire safety of buildings, but there is also the risk of making buildings less fire safe if combustible assemblies are installed.

Buildings which are the least efficient and most likely to experience fuel poverty — such as older social housing blocks — are often those most at risk from fire too. So, if done right, the retrofit drive presents a unique opportunity to improve energy efficiency, comfort and fire safety all at once.




What are the fire safety measures in high-rise buildings? ›

Never lock or block fire exits. Keep waste material away from escape route. Fire doors not only provide a way out during a fire, they also slow the spread of the effects of fire and smoke. Never prop fire doors open.

What is the importance of fire and corrosion protection in in high-rise buildings? ›

Fire protection is not only focused on stopping the spread of flames, but also smoke and dangerous gases. The main purpose of all fire protection strategies is to slow down the spread of these elements and allow rescue services to do their job and residents to evacuate safely.

What are the hazards in high-rise buildings? ›

What are the risks of working on high-rise construction sites?
  • Ladders.
  • Falling waste.
  • Slips, trips, and falls.
  • Electric shocks.
  • Crane & hoist operations.
Apr 26, 2022

What is the overview of fire protection in buildings? ›

Fire-protection systems fall into two main categories — passive fire protection and active fire protection. Passive fire protection involves the use of building components to control or limit a fire. Walls, floors, and ceilings can be designed and constructed to resist the passage of fire and smoke.

What are some of the precautions buildings must have for fire safety? ›

Fire Safety Exit Signs & Fire Alarms

Exit signs must be bright and free from obstruction, emergency lighting units functional, and exit signs and lighting backup batteries should be fully charged and reliable. Fire alarm systems go hand in hand with exiting the building during a fire or other emergencies.

What are the OSHA guidelines for fire safety? ›

OSHA requires that all employees be trained to use fire extinguishers. Training is required upon employment and at least annually thereafter. It is recommended the training session cover how to determine when a fire is too big to handle; what type of extinguisher to use; and the PASS system of early-stage firefighting.

What are the two main purposes of fire resistant walls in a commercial structure? ›

The base philosophy behind providing fire-resistance rated construction is compartmentalizing the building in such a way that limits the effects of fire on structural components, slows the spread of the fire, and allows the building occupants enough time for safe escape.

What are the most important elements to be protected in a fire? ›

A fire needs three elements - heat, oxygen and fuel. Without heat, oxygen and fuel a fire will not start or spread. A key strategy to prevent fire is to remove one or more of heat, oxygen or fuel. The risk assessment should include detail on all three elements to minimise the risk of a fire starting/ spreading.

What is one of the most effective means of fire protection in a building? ›

A common fire protection system is a smoke detector and a sprinkler.

What are the 4 high hazard areas? ›

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has identified the four leading causes of fatalities in the construction industry – known as OSHA's “Focus Four Hazards” or "Construction Focus Four Hazards". The Focus Four Hazards consist of Falls, Caught-In or -Between, Struck-By, and Electrocution.

What are the three main types of hazards in the building industry? ›

There are three leading causes of injuries due to workplace hazards in the construction industry. They are manual handling injuries, falls, slips and trips, and being hit by moving objects.

What are the three main principles of fire protection and safety? ›

Over time we have learned fundamental fire safety principles for preventing fire events and managing their impact (i.e. the Common Principles: Prevention, Detection and Communication, Occupant Protection, Containment and Extinguishment) that can be consistently applied internationally.

What are the three components of structural fire protection? ›

The primary methods of achieving fire suppression can be explained through the use of the fire tetrahedron which evolved from the familiar fire triangle. The fire triangle is a graphic representation of the three components that must be present for combustion to occur: 1) fuel, 2) heat, and 3) oxygen.

What are the five basic fire safety practices for facility? ›

5 Fire Safety Tips
  • Install Fire Alarms. Smoke alarms are the best early fire warning system. ...
  • Plan a Fire Escape Route. In the event of a fire, always have an escape plan in advance. ...
  • Keep Flames and Other Heating Equipment in Check. ...
  • Have a Fire Extinguisher. ...
  • Utilize the Cliche Stop, Drop and Roll.
Nov 4, 2021

What is the first rule of fire safety? ›

Get down, get low, get out – smoke is poisonous, get underneath it on your hands and knees, and crawl to the nearest safe exit. Shut the doors behind you to stop the spread of fire and smoke. Shout Fire!

What is the OSHA standard that addresses fire protection and prevention in the construction industry? ›

1926.150 - Fire protection. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

What does OSHA require as part of a fire prevention plan? ›

At a minimum, your fire prevention plan must include: A list of all major fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(1)]

Which of the following guidelines should be followed in the event of a building fire? ›

In the event of a fire, the following steps should be taken to ensure the safety of all building occupants: Activate the fire alarm. Call 911 immediately and provide information. Assist injured personnel or notify emergency responders of the medical emergency.

What are the 3 main classifications of fire-rated walls? ›

The International Building Code (IBC) identifies three types of walls used for fire separation of areas within a building. These three wall types are Fire Walls, Fire Barriers, and Fire Partitions.

What is the difference between fire barrier and firewall? ›

So what is the difference between firewalls and fire barriers? Basically, firewalls are thick exterior walls with a higher fire-resistance rating, while fire barriers are interior walls with a lower fire-resistance rating.

Which building materials is the most fire resistance Why? ›

These are some of the most fire-resistant building materials:
  • Concrete. Concrete is highly resistant to heat, and it is noncombustible, so it's generally considered one of the most effective building materials for slowing down fires. ...
  • Brick. On an individual basis, bricks are extremely resistant to fire. ...
  • Gypsum.
Nov 15, 2018

What are the 4 goals of fire protection? ›

The 4 Purposes of Your Fire Alarm System

The four ways your fire alarm system works to protect your property and its occupants from the dangers of fire are by detecting fire, alerting occupants, managing risk, and notifying the fire department.

What 3 elements must be present for a fire to start? ›

The fire triangle is a simple way of understanding the elements of fire. The sides of the triangle represent the interdependent ingredients needed for fire: heat, fuel and oxygen.

What is the most common fire protection system? ›

Water. A fire suppression system that relies on water is the most common type of fire suppression system, and most people choose to have them installed in businesses and buildings.

What are the two main types of fire protection systems? ›

Active and passive fire protection work independently but together to provide comprehensive coverage for your facility. In the unfortunate event of a fire, active fire protection methods work to extinguish the fire, while passive fire protection keeps the fire from spreading to other areas in the building.

Which building material can best prevent or limit fire spread? ›

In general, any kind of concrete masonry such as stone or brick is strong, durable, and resistant to the spread of flames. Bricks can help a structure withstand the exposure of fire for a longer length of time.

What is the most effective system for fire suppression on a commercial building? ›

Wet pipe sprinkler systems are the most common type installed, especially in commercial buildings. Wet pipe systems are the simplest and therefore the most reliable.

What is the Big 3 in safety? ›

For any hazard or emergency on campus, there are three key protective actions that you can take. They apply in so many different situations that we call them "The Big 3". Please take some time to become familiar with how to evacuate, shelter-in-place and secure-in-place.

What is OSHA zone of danger? ›

Danger zone means any place in or about a machine or piece of equipment where an employee may be struck by or caught between moving parts, caught between moving and stationary objects or parts of the machine, caught between the material and a moving part of the machine, burned by hot surfaces or exposed to electric ...

What are the top 10 most frequently cited OSHA violations? ›

OSHA's Top 10 Safety Violations 2022
  1. 1 Fall Protection–General Requirements – 5,260 citations. ...
  2. 2 Hazard Communication – 2,424 citations. ...
  3. 3 Respiratory Protection – 2,185 citations. ...
  4. 4 Ladders – 2,143 citations. ...
  5. 5 Scaffolding – 2,058 citations. ...
  6. 6 Lockout/Tagout – 1,977 citations. ...
  7. 7 Powered Industrial Trucks – 1,749 citations.
Nov 1, 2022

What are the four categories of hazards from OSHA? ›

Health hazards include chemical hazards (solvents, adhesives, paints, toxic dusts, etc.), physical hazards (noise, radiation, heat, etc.), biological hazards (infectious diseases), and ergonomic risk factors (heavy lifting, repetitive motions, vibration).

What are the 5 common causes of fire? ›

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), the five most common causes of fires include: 1) cooking; 2) heating; 3) electrical; 4) smoking; and 5) candles. Here is what to know about each one so you can prevent a fire in your home.

How can you prevent fire in a building? ›

  1. Unplug Items You're Not Using. Excess electricity flowing through items in your home can always be a potential fire hazard. ...
  2. Use Surge Protectors. ...
  3. Never Leave Flames Unattended. ...
  4. Keep Flammable Items Away From Heat. ...
  5. Don't Smoke In the Home. ...
  6. Put Out The Fire. ...
  7. Cut The Clutter. ...
  8. Remove Lint And Change Filters.

What are the most common buildings to catch fire? ›

6 Common Places Fires in Buildings Begin
  1. Kitchen. Cooking is the leading cause of fires in both commercial and residential buildings. ...
  2. Electrical Systems. Source. ...
  3. Smoking Areas. ...
  4. HVAC System. ...
  5. Storage Areas. ...
  6. Office Spaces.
Sep 25, 2019

What is the golden rule of fire safety? ›

If In Doubt, Get Out. When considering whether to tackle a small fire yourself if you discover one, always bear in mind the golden rule of fire safety; If in doubt, get out, stay out and call the Fire Brigade immediately.

What are the three most common fire safety objectives? ›

To prevent and suppress unwanted fires by rendering prompt and efficient services so as to keep the loss of life and property to the minimum. To conduct fire safety inspection in hazardous occupancies and to advise Management so as to reduce risk by fire.

What is the fire safety summary? ›

Fire safety is the set of practices intended to reduce destruction caused by fire. Fire safety measures include those that are intended to prevent the ignition of an uncontrolled fire and those that are used to limit the spread and impact of a fire.

What is the NFPA standard for structural firefighting? ›

NFPA 1971 protects fire fighting personnel by establishing minimum levels of protection from thermal, physical, environmental, and bloodborne pathogen hazards encountered during structural and proximity fire fighting operations.

What are the different types of building fire protection? ›

Common Fire Protection Systems
  • Wet Fire Sprinkler Systems. ...
  • Dry Pipe Systems. ...
  • Special Hazard Fire Protection Systems. ...
  • Dry Chemical Fire Suppression Systems. ...
  • Gaseous Fire Suppression Systems. ...
  • Foam Fire Suppression Systems.

What are the layers of fire protection? ›

In the EU Fire Safety Guide, the Modern Building Alliance presents ideas around the 7 layers of fire safety in buildings: prevention, detection, early suppression, evacuation, compartmentation, structural safety and firefighting.

What are the 3 basic components of a fire OSHA? ›

Heat, fuel and oxygen must combine in a precise way for a fire to start and continue to burn. If one element of the fire triangle is not present or removed, fire will not start or, if already burning, will extinguish.

What are the 3 components are needed to support fire except? ›

Oxygen, heat, and fuel are frequently referred to as the "fire triangle." Add in the fourth element, the chemical reaction, and you actually have a fire "tetrahedron." The important thing to remember is: take any of these four things away, and you will not have a fire or the fire will be extinguished.

Which is one of the required elements of a fire safety plan? ›

Include building plans marked for fire exits, fire extinguishers, alarm points, smoke detectors, first aid boxes, main electrical panel, main water supply, evacuation routes, etc. Methods required to prevent fires (e.g., storage of items, etc.)

What are the fire safety measures adopted in the Burj Khalifa? ›

Reinforced Stairways and Refuge Areas

These refuge areas are separated from the main structure of the building by a “two-hour fire-resistant construction”. It is also air-conditioned and pressurized, in order to mitigate the migration of smoke.

What should be done to prevent smoke from entering a high rise stair tower? ›

One way to combat this issue, and to keep stairways clear of smoke to allow occupants to descend safely is to employ the use of smoke and fire curtains in these areas. Smoke curtains are discreetly installed at the head of an elevator or stairwell doorway.

What is a riser fire safety? ›

A riser is a system of pipes that run through the inside of a building, enabling water to be quickly distributed in the event of a fire. There are two types of risers in relation to fire safety: dry riser and wet riser.

What are three things that put a house at greater risk of catching fire during a forest fire from your text? ›

There are three ways your home can be exposed to wildfire: direct flames from a wildfire or burning neighboring home; radiant heat from nearby burning plants or structures; and flying embers.

What is one fundamental problem of the Burj Khalifa? ›

1. One of the first challenges of the Burj Khalifa was that the building had to withstand extreme heat, reaching more than 50 degree Celsius in summers. Accounting for that, an exterior cladding made of reflective glazing with aluminium and textured stainless steel panels were made.

What are some of the elements used in building Burj Khalifa? ›

Structural Elements
  • Foundation. The superstructure is supported by a large reinforced concrete mat, which is in turn supported by bored reinforced concrete piles. ...
  • Podium. ...
  • Exterior Cladding. ...
  • Structural System. ...
  • Spire. ...
  • Mechanical Floors. ...
  • Window Washing Bays. ...
  • Broadcast and Communications Floors.

What are three 3 methods normally use in the building to control smoke movement? ›

There are various types of smoke management systems on the market, but there are four main methods of smoke control used within these systems: Dilution, Pressurization, Buoyancy and Compartmentation.

How do you ventilate a high rise fire? ›

Another way to remove the smoke is by introducing positive pressure ventilation (PPV) fans into the attack stairway. Use the PPV fans to build pressure in the stairway. Then, open the door in that stairway on the fire floor and at roof level.

What are the structural measures for preventing the passage of flames and smoke? ›

Any breaches in fire compartments must be filled using an intumescent sealant. when exposed to high temperatures. This fills any gaps and prevents the passage of smoke and flames. Any openings between compartments, such as doors, windows, joints, pipes, and ducts, must be fireproofed.

What is the maximum pressure for fire riser checks? ›

The maximum pressure at any point in the system at any time shall not exceed 400 350 psi (28 bar) .

What are the two types of riser? ›

There are essentially two kinds of risers, namely rigid risers and flexible risers.

How many floors is a high rise NFPA? ›

1 “High-rise” is defined here as 7 stories above grade. This is roughly consistent with the Life Safety Code definition of high rise as 75 feet (23 meters) in height, measured from the lowest level of fire department vehicle access to the floor of the highest occupiable story.

What are 3 hazards that may cause fire? ›

Common fire hazards are found in most occupancies and are not associated with any special occupancy. Smoking, trash, electrical appliances, storage, and heating are common to most occupancy types.

What 3 items would you grab if your house was on fire and why? ›

Collections, paperwork and tech

A fifth of people said that if they had the time, they would save their prized collection. These included; stamps, coins, military medals and vinyl records. Musical instruments including; guitars, drums, oboes and saxophones would also be saved from fires.


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