A critical component of any successful commercial building design is adequate consideration for the safety of building occupants in various scenarios, including dangerous situations such as a fire. Architects, engineers and contractors can improve a building’s fire safety by carefully considering evacuation distances from within the building, identifying the potential flammability of building materials and designing with a plan for fire containment, such as by segmenting areas and using fire-resistant materials like fire safety glass.
The majority of injuries and fatalities caused by fire are the result of people being overcome by smoke and gases. A fire within a building can produce very thick, black smoke that can make it difficult to see, breathe and access escape routes.
To properly evaluate the risk to occupants, it’s important to appreciate the way fires can grow and spread throughout the premises and to try to mitigate those risks through appropriate planning and material selection.
Dividing a building into multiple fire-resistant compartments can limit the severity of a fire and offer increased protection for occupants. Fire-resistant doors and divider walls made of fire safety glass or treated with fire-resistant solutions provide important physical barriers that can help confine a fire and limit the spread of flames, smoke, heat and toxic gases. It’s especially important to include fire-resistant measures along escape routes to help ensure people can evacuate the premises as safely as possible.
A closed door offers important basic protection by holding back fire and smoke. This protection improves dramatically by installing an approved fire door, which uses fire-resistant materials and fire safety glass to create a longer lasting barrier against fire, smoke and gas.
Fire doors typically include a self-closing mechanism, which is especially important for use along evacuation routes to ensure the doors close behind exiting occupants to keep the fire contained.
In shopping centres, atrium buildings and premises with large open areas, an automatic smoke and heat exhaust ventilation system (SHEVS) may be installed to help control the amount of smoke collecting within the building and also limit the size of a fire.
These ventilation systems are designed to collect smoke in a reservoir at the roof level, from which the smoke and heat vents to the outside. This keeps the smoke level above head height so people may escape the premises without suffering smoke inhalation.
When buildings occupied by different businesses or tenants are adjoined or share a common wall, such as in a terraced structure or shopping centre, fire separation measures can help protect against fire spreading through the connected premises.
Fire separation walls should extend fully to the roof to leave no gaps for smoke or fumes to sneak through, and there should be no timber crossing within the safety walls. Local authorities can provide specific guidelines regarding building codes and fire separation requirements.
Fire in Cavities
A cavity is a concealed space within a building through which fire, smoke and fumes could spread and threaten occupants. Cavities are common in building for a number of reasons and can provide alternative and unseen means for a fire to spread unchecked through the premises.
Fire-resistant cavity barriers can help restrict the spread of fire from its source and should be installed in all vertical shafts, false ceilings or walls, voids behind wall panelling, unsealed holes around pipes and wiring, a roof space or attic, and around any ducts.
It’s important to consider the potential of a building’s ventilation system to spread fire and smoke, unless it is designed to shut down automatically if smoke is detected. Since ventilation ducts typically connect room and other compartments in a building, they can provide an excellent channel for spreading smoke throughout a building quite quickly. Such a spread can be prevented by installing fire dampers, which close automatically and hold back smoke and fire.
The surfaces of walls and ceilings can either help or inhibit the spread and growth of a fire. Multiple layers of wallpaper and certain paints can speed a fire along, while pared back walls and surfaces treated with fire-resistant or fire-dampening materials can help slow the spread of a fire and give occupants essential extra time to escape.
Combustible external materials, such as timber, can encourage the spread of a fire along the exterior of a building. In these cases, it’s important to consider the likelihood of a fire breaking out externally as well as internally. If a fire spreads rapidly around the exterior of a building, it causes a heightened risk to people inside who need to escape.
As well as protecting investments, planning ahead and taking appropriate steps to ensure fire protection in commercial buildings can save lives. Key to guarding any building is fire resistant materials like fire safety glass, fire resistant glass doors and more. To discuss your building needs or learn how fire rated safety glass can help protect your premises, contact the team at Diamond Glass today.