Global fire safety standards are fundamental to setting minimum performance requirements and to make sure that people are given enough time to escape in the event of a fire. During the past decades, consumer fire safety standards have gradually improved to guarantee the highest levels of safety to people, their homes and properties.
As products continue to improve, from lighter and faster computers, to smart buildings or alternative fuelled transportation modes it is critical that standards are constantly kept up to date in order to provide a first important layer of protection for citizens.
Fire safety regulations and standards exist for buildings, transportation (road, rail, aircrafts and ships), electrical engineering and electronics as well as furniture and textiles. In all of these areas, they define high performance requirements that can make a huge difference in saving lives and properties and allow enough time to escape in the event of a fire.
In recent years, probably no other type of product has evolved and improved more than electrical and electronic goods. Their widespread use in our lives and homes has made it imperative to have very strict fire safety standards so as to allow people to have enough time to escape in case of a fire.
Due to their characteristics, fire hazard in electrical equipment could multiply rapidly, making it relatively easy for products to ignite when in contact with internal and external heat sources. That is why stringent standards are developed for multiple components in electrical and electronic equipment.
- Printed wiring boards (PWBs), which need to pass stringent flammability ratings according to UL 94
- Wires and cables, whose combustibility is tested and must meet stringent UL and IEC standards
- Electrical connectors, which need to meet stringent fire safety requirements while keeping their design properties
- Electrical cabinets and enclosures, which ensure the protection of the content of appliances as well as the protection of people from shocks and burns, while maintaining their aesthetic role.
Building & Construction
Safe and sustainable construction is key to providing consumers with the right level of safety at home. Fire safety standards per se do not mandate the use of specific materials or products used in buildings. However, they set minimum mandatory performance requirements to which national legislations refer.
In the EU, the Construction Products Regulation lays down a harmonised approach towards testing and classification of products, applicable to all EU Member States, known as Euroclass. Under this system, which implements a single ‘reaction to fire’ classification, products are tested for ignitability, heat release, smoke production and dripping. However, despite common requirements, the competence for fire safety of buildings remains at the level of individual Member States due to geographical, historical and technological differences.
In practice, this means that each Member State is free to set the required level of fire safety for a specific product or material in its national or local legislation, and according to the purpose and construction area of buildings. Requirements for products and materials are laid down on the basis of their performance measured by specific fire tests. Depending on the specific application in a building, different tests are used, covering roofing and flooring, as well as wall coverings, insulation and cabling and wiring. Such tests cover all stages of a fire, from ignition to flashover, taking into account the time and behaviour of a specific product.
The technological advances in all means of transport in the past decades have certainly been assisted by the use of more durable, affordable and efficient materials. Nevertheless, these materials also pose an increased threat to passengers’ safety. The increased use of electrical and electronic components in transport modes, together with advancement in alternative fuelled transportation modes, has also created an additional layer of fire risks for people.
Similar to other market sectors, materials used in the transport industry must meet a number of fire safety standards. Depending on the segment, materials and products used both in interior and exterior components are assessed according to a series of fire tests, covering flammability, spread of flame, heat release and smoke density, which are defined at the European or international levels.
The stringency of these requirements varies according to the different transport applications. For example, ships and aircrafts must adhere to very stringent fire safety standards applied globally, while for road transport (buses and private cars) and railways, recent improvements on international standards are still to guarantee the highest level of fire protection to people’s lives and properties.
Furniture & Textiles
When it comes to selecting furniture or textiles for our homes, there is a staggering selection based on design, patterns, materials and budgetary options. However, few of us take into account fire safety parameters of the products we purchase. Technological developments have been coupled with new strategies for ensuring fire safety, from pre-empting ignition to minimising the intensity of a fire and increasing the time needed for evacuation.
In the EU, the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD) establishes requirements for any products placed on the consumer market. However, while a series of technical fire standards exist across the EU, especially for public spaces, fire safety regulations are governed by national legislation in individual Member States. This make it difficult for manufacturers to comply with differing fire safety standards, hampering cross-border sales and competition. It also, means that differing fire safety standards focusing on the ignitability of furniture and textiles, have resulted in diverging levels of protection for consumers and their properties.
As a result of developments in the last decades, the UK presents the best example of regulations in Europe, with UK consumers benefitting from the world’s highest levels of fire safety for furniture, which has successfully cut fire deaths by over two thirds in the last 25 years. With most fires developing inside our apartments, fire safety standards have gradually become stricter in the UK and their ignitability tests have been reflected in the Furniture and Furnishing Regulations (FFRs).