Fire and Building Safety in the Single European Market

Does CE Compliance Ensure Fire Safety?

One day symposium, held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Wednesday 12th November 2008

Regulatory tests, such as the Single Burning Item test (SBI), are driven by both technical and political processes. Breakdowns in the process can lead to disasters such as the Kaprun ski train fire, the Mont Blanc tunnel fire and possibly the Buncefield disaster.

The inaugural 'Philip H. Thomas lecture' was delivered by Prof Geoff Cox as part of the FIRESEAT symposium on 'Fire and Building Safety in the Single European Market'. This annual lecture and medal was established to honour the life and research of one of the pioneers of Fire Safety Research. Dr Thomas worked in fire safety research at the Fire Research Station (now part of BRE) for over thirty years, from the early 1950s to the mid 1980s. In that time he published numerous 'Fire Research Notes' and over thirty journal papers on fire phenomena, many of which are still regularly cited today. Since retiring from the Fire Research Station in 1986 he has remained active in fire research and continues to publish in Fire Safety Journal and elsewhere. The importance of his contributions to the field cannot be overstated.

Presentations and Papers

All presentations were recorded and the video links below point to YouTube. Due to file size limiations on YouTube it has been necessary to split the presentations into segments less than 10 minutes each.

Speaker Title Paper Slides Photos Video
Title page Contents of the Proceedings PDF
Introduction by Prof Jose Torero and Prof Dougal Drysdale 1 2 YouTube
Geoff Cox The Inaugural Philip H. Thomas lecture: "The Role of Fire Science" pp 1-19 PDF 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 5 6 Q&A
Vincent Brannigan "The Regulation of Technological Innovation: The Special Problem of Fire Safety Standards" pp 20-33 PDF 1 2 1 2 3 4
Sergio López "Benefits and Disadvantages of the European Standardisation" pp 34-37 PDF 1 2 Soon
Eric Guillaume "Regulatory issues and flame retardant usage in upholstered furniture in Europe" pp 38-48 PDF 1 2 Soon
Jose Torero "Basic Principles for an Adequate Performance Assessment Standard" pp 49-60 PDF 1 2 1 2 3
Elizabeth Buc "Fire Testing and Fire Reality: What do fire tests really tell us about materials?" pp 61-69 PDF 1 2 Soon
Birgitte Messerschmidt "The capabilities and limitations of the Single Burning Item (SBI) test" pp 70-81 PDF 1 2 1 2 3 4
Bernd Beier "Regulation and Innovation in the "Single Market": Theoretical Advantages and Practical Problems" pp 82-89 PDF 1 1 2 3 4
Panel discussion 1 2 1 2
Proceedings Copyright Statement PDF


Prof Geoff Cox

The Role Of Fire Science (Inaugural Philip Thomas Lecture)

It is always difficult in a scientific field to identify one particular individual whose contributions above all others stand out as the most significant. However it is without fear of contradiction that I can say that, for the disciplines of Fire Safety Science and Fire Safety Engineering, there is no question that that figure is Philip Thomas. Throughout his long career he has published much of the key seminal scientific research that has provided us with our understanding of fire.

Ranging through his contributions on self-heating, thermal explosion theory, through fire extinction and buoyant diffusion flame theory to the modelling of forest and building fires, his name is dominant in author citation indexes in the field.

Not only his seminal scientific research, but also his vision and leadership of the influential international committees, CIB W14, ISO TC92 and the IAFSS, have delivered a new engineering discipline on which modern performance-based building regulation is heavily dependent.

This lecture will explore the progress of one contributory element as it has progressed from a largely observational to an analytical science where the digital computer now plays such a large role.

It will consider how far analytical techniques currently available can be applied to the "real world" and what they mean for the standards making. Finally it will comment on the various agendas for the delivery of a robust fire engineering capability and their lack of progress.

I use a brief personal account to illustrate the role of fire science in the achievements of today's engineering practice but suggest that the current trend to abandon scientific research is conducted at great risk to the safe implementation of performance-based regulation.

Prof. Vincent Brannigan

The Regulation of Technological Innovation: The Special Problem of Fire Safety Standards

Technological innovation poses the greatest challenge to any regulatory system. The ability to create a new product is not always connected with the ability to understand its risks. This is especially true in fire safety where adequate understanding of the local "technical culture" is critical to the risk from the product. Technical culture includes how products are actually used in an environment. In different environments the same product may pose different risks, due to different patterns of use. Regulatory standards are also sometimes unable to capture the risk inherent in materials or processes which did not exist when a regulatory standard was adopted. Regulators therefore normally need both high technical expertise and adequate regulatory discretion, particularly in the decision as to whether a given regulatory standard test method is adequate given the innovation and the prevailing technical culture. This requirement conflicts directly with the European system of decentralized nondiscretionary regulation based on so-called performance standards. These standards do not test the performance of the material in the real world environment, but instead predict that performance based on a test which tests some but not all of the attributes needed to predict real world performance. Among the greatest risks is "Regulatory capture" which occurs when a producer gets a vested interest in a test method which permits a material despite its obvious failure in the real world. A secondary problem is a system which permits a material despite a local technical culture which creates a greater risk than predicted by the test. Resolution of the problem requires a more complex and effective system both for vetting tests and for determining when they can be used.

Sergio López Castillo

Benefits and Disadvantages of the European Standardisation

Since the beginning of the European standardization, there has been a global uncertainty about the benefits and disadvantages of this common standardization, and how it will affect the sector.

Taking this into account, some organizations have been created to promote this harmonized standardization, improving the efficiency of standardization, getting a cooperation and cohesion and to show the advantages of working in a single market.

The single Community market is a reality for European Industry and common technical standards have been developed progressively at European rather than national level. It is clear that the output of the European standardization bodies has risen spectacularly because over 800 standards have been adopted in the last six years, three times as many as in the previous twenty years. But the completion of the Internal Market requires the adoption of at least 800 additional standards.

Eric Guillaume

Regulatory issues and flame retardant usage in upholstered furniture in Europe

Authors: E. Guillaume, C. Chivas and A. Sainrat

Accidental fires in dwellings are responsible for over ten thousand injuries and more than 460 deaths every year in France. Many of these fires involve upholstered furniture. Within Europe, the regulations for such furniture vary considerably between countries and applications. The European Commission has set up an enquiry into this issue and may enforce the use of flame retardants in an annex to the EU General Products Safety Directive. In some cases, the introduction of such regulations implies usage of flame-retardants in the fabric or foam of the furniture. The incorporation of flame retardants has the benefits of improving reaction to fire properties and reducing the fire hazard due to fire spread and heat release, but might also increase the toxicity of the fire emissions or introduce other risks due to the chemicals themselves.

The study presented was carried out to evaluate the risks and the benefits of introducing flame-retardants into upholstered furniture within the life-cycle risk assessment. The paper examines the currently available literature on the different risks due to the presence of flame-retardants in upholstered furniture, that is:

  • (a) the risk of exposure to flame-retardants during manufacture of the products (worker acute and chronic toxicity);
  • (b) the risk of exposure to flame-retardants under normal living conditions. This risk mainly results from accumulation of release flame-retardants in indoor air (inhalation) and/or skin contact and migration of substances (chronic toxicity);
  • (c) the environmental risk during recycling or incineration of the products (mainly ecotoxicity);
  • (d) the risk of increasing emissions of toxic gases from accidental fires due to cigarettes or matches on upholstered furniture (acute toxicity)

Several studies show that estimation of exposure to people by using consumer products containing flame retardants is not very easy. A methodology was proposed to estimate the risks and the benefits of flame-retardants within the life-cycle risk assessment, considering REACH and GHS directives, and also flammability standards. Data sheets for some common flame-retardants used in upholstered furniture were devised in order to evaluate the complete risk-balance equation for long-term health from exposure to consumer products containing flame-retardants and from exposure to their fire effluents.

Dr Elizabeth Buc

Fire Testing and Fire Reality: What do fire tests really tell us about materials?

Fire tests are a critical component used in the process of designing a fire safe environment. For example, how do you know the fire protection in a large storage facility for chemical oxidizers is sufficient? How do you test the fire safety of and recommend performance-based criteria for engine compartment and interior materials for the variety of passenger road vehicles? For example, fire modeling predicted that a polyethylene product would auto-ignite when exposed to a radiant heat source when, in suitable tests or real fires, the same object melted away from the heat source. Fire tests must be carefully developed and monitored to make sure they correspond to reality. Fire experimentalists are always concerned with real-world fire parameters in the development, execution and application of fire tests and fire test data. Ageing, scaling, calculations, fire modeling and cost all require careful consideration in developing, evaluating and communicating the advantages and limitations of data from laboratory tests with the real world. Where no reliable fire test data exists, evaluation of historical fires and preliminary bench scale test data are often better than no data. But in any case no one should rely unquestioningly on small scale tests. This presentation will examine the challenges of fire testing and related progress in fire safety science.

Birgitte Messerschmidt

The capabilities and limitations of the Single Burning Item (SBI) test

The Single Burning Item test was published in February 2002. It was the last of the test standards needed in order to have the European reaction to fire classification (Euroclass) system in operation.

The SBI test was developed by a group of official European fire laboratories guided by the European Commissions Fire Regulators group. Having a harmonised reaction to fire classification system in Europe is a great achievement considering the wide spread of national test used before.

However, having just one system which is trying to cater to all the different national regulations also posses a challenge both to regulators, specification writers and manufacturers. To understand the capabilities and the limitations of the SBI test it is necessary to know the basic philosophy behind the test. Especially the link to the reference scenario is of great importance. This presentation will explain the background for the SBI test and discuss the challenges experienced when using the Euroclass system for CE marking purposes.

Dr Bernd Beier

Regulation and Innovation in the "Single Market": Theoretical Advantages and Practical Problems

Integrating the European market has represented a challenge for both technical and legal participants. Economic proponents of the single market combine a misunderstanding of the USA experience with a sometimes incorrect belief that technical tests are always adequate to ensure safety. The Kaprun disaster shows the problem of a mismatch between the desires of producers and the capability of regulators.

The unified market can create the problem that a "product" assembled from components that are underspecified may create new problems. This is especially aggravated when products come from producers with different technical cultures who may not understand the limitations of the regulatory test and assume that all products that pass the test represent similar hazards. Unless all parties in the regulatory process understand the limitations of the unified market and regulators retain their legal power and administrative role in safety it is possible to create disaster despite compliance with CE standards.

Incorrect reliance on an uncontrolled mix of national and international safety and regulatory processes can lead regulators to understate the risk of devices and systems built without a thorough safety review. Complex systems created out of "approved components" may include novel hazards. It is vital that all systems, not just components be fully reviewed by appropriate authorities. "One size" does not "fit all" when it comes to safety.

Prof Geoff Cox accepting Philip H Thomas Medal from Prof Dougal Drysdale
Prof Geoff Cox accepting Philip H Thomas Medal from Prof Dougal Drysdale
Philip H Thomas
Philip H Thomas