In recent years the construction industry has begun to reevaluate building safety with the hope that we never again witness a tragedy on the same scale as Grenfell Tower. That said, the threat of fire in the spaces we live and work in remains. That threat becomes even more significant in multi-occupancy buildings such as flats, hotels, and student accommodation and those with vulnerable occupants including schools, hospitals and care homes.
Building with non-combustible materials means building resilience into the spaces we occupy. While the best protection is always prevention, if a fire does break out, concrete is a reliable material and a low-risk solution that can save lives and property. Concrete is an inherently non-combustible material, it has the highest A1 reaction to fire classification possible (in accordance with BS EN 13501-1:2018).
Conducting routine fire tests on concrete facades isn’t necessary to prove that concrete is a non-combustible material or a necessary part of building certification. However, to show how resilient this material can be, MPA Precast carried out a full-scale fire test on precast concrete cladding panels.
It was important that any test or demonstration was carried out by a trusted industry body and in adherence with recognised standards. For this reason, MPA Precast commissioned the Fire Protection Association (FPA) to carry out a BS 8414-2:2020  test. The test method sets out a clear process of assessing the behaviour of non-load bearing external cladding, rain screen over cladding, and external wall insulation systems exposed to an external fire.
The fire exposure is designed to be representative of an external fire source or a fully developed (post-flashover) fire in a room, venting through an opening such as a window aperture that exposes the cladding to the effects of external flames.
Full details of the BS 8414 test method are available at: https://www.thefpa.co.uk/fire-testing
During the test period, in which a timber crib within the concrete panels was set alight, temperatures of greater than 600ºC were recorded mid-way up the facade. Despite the ferocity of this fire, internal temperatures barely rose above an ambient level and remained cool enough to touch, showing how effectively concrete can act as a heat shield between the fire and anything behind it.
Once the fire was extinguished, the panels exhibited minor cosmetic damage, but were otherwise structurally sound. If the panels were in use in a building, the work needed to get the building in working order again would be minimal.
MPA Precast is part of the Mineral Products Association, the trade association for the aggregates, asphalt, cement, concrete, dimension stone, lime, mortar and industrial sand industries. www.mineralproducts.org
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