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Compartmentation to manage fire risk

10 July 2024

Compartmentation is a critical line of defence for fire safety in buildings such as warehouses with accurate installation essential to controlling the spread of fire and helping to protect occupants, the integrity of the building, and stored goods, says Joshua Slack.

ONE OF the most effective ways to protect buildings, such as warehouses, from fire and involves a process of dividing a structure into 'compartments' that are created using fire-resistant systems. 

Through creating compartments incorporating fire protection boards within wall and ceiling systems, and to encase structural steel, fire can be contained within a determined area for a set period of time, as long as the correct passive fire protection system has been specified. 

This underpins the effectiveness of any measures taken to address a fire risk in a building, including ‘Stay Put’ policies and the creation of a fire protected corridors to allow vital access for the emergency services responding to a fire. It also works to protect goods being stored from the spread of fire – and ultimately can help to protect the supply chain from disruption. 

For effective protection a holistic approach is required, in addition to the walls and ceilings themselves, any element that forms that part of that compartment line, such as doors, firestopping or steelwork encasements, must maintain the same fire performance.

Specifying compartmentation

For compartmentation to provide the fire protection required for the warehouse, it is essential that the correct system is specified. 

Promat manufactures fire protection boards that can be built into fire rated systems to provide protection from the spread of heat and smoke for 30, 60, 90, 120 and 240 minutes with the fire resistance period specification being dependant on the type of building, the height, size and complexity of application, in accordance with building regulations.

This must be supported by the effective use of fire stopping systems to maintain compartmentation where breaches have been made into the fire rated system to accommodate, for example, pipework.

A simple, straightforward structure will see the use of fire protection boards forming ceilings and walls that have been tested and certified in that application. While a more complex warehouse building may require a bespoke approach, including the support of a fire engineer to ensure compliance with Approved Document B fire regulations. 

To demonstrate it meets the required fire performance, all passive fire protection systems must have valid approvals. Here at Promat we advocate that systems are third party certified, evidencing that they meet the relevant EN fire test standards.

Technical support 

With the introduction of the Building Safety Act there is a greater emphasis on the need for early specification so it is important that compartmentation is factored into any new warehouse project or refurbishment at the design stage. 

Early engagement with technical specialists in passive fire protection will ensure any potential issues are flagged at the design stage, and the necessary technical support sought to ensure the correct specification of the fire protection systems appropriate for the design of the building and its use. This can include the addition of passive fire protection of mezzanine floors, protecting structural steel and high risk areas, such as for battery storage. 

While specification and installation of effective compartmentation is essential to provide protection from the rapid spread of fire to other areas of the warehouse, adequate maintenance is also vital to ensure it continues to perform as required throughout the life of a building. As such, any damage should be promptly repaired and any post-installation penetrations, such as for new service pipework, be firestopped with products certified for the specific application.

With the support of technical experts and through early engagement, compartmentation can deliver the protection needed to minimise the risk of a fire spreading in a warehouse and help to maintain the supply chain.

Joshua Slack, commercial director, Promat

For more information, visit www.promat.com