Fire issue remains hot topic

22 October 2019

The issue of fire and timber has been in the news again recently.

The issue of fire and timber has been in the news again recently.

Grenfell and its subsequent impact on combustible material specification is of course having ramifications in the building industry and the supply chain.

And several timber framed building fires – in Crewe and London – have also highlighted the issue at a sensitive time.

In this magazine, we have previously said that the fallout of Grenfell was likely to spread far and wide irrespective of the fact that timber was not the reason that the fire spread so quickly.

The recommendations and building regulation updates have gone beyond the original remit of the Grenfell inquiry and there are cases of specifiers changing their plans and specifying alternative materials. Our softwood market update refers to some insurers taking the issue to its extreme with even cases reported of ordinary houses with small amounts of wood cladding being refused cover and subsequently mortgages refused.

And we have to remember that the concrete industry is certainly not remaining quiet on the issue of fire. Gordon Ewbank, chief executive of the Wood Protection Association, writing in our preservatives and fire retardants sector focus, believes the subject of fire will continue to top the construction industry’s agenda for some time.

He shared a recent survey of architects carried out by a WPA member, in which 70% of them did not understand the term ‘fire resistance’ and just under 60% did not understand the term ‘reaction to fire’.

Which is surprising to say the least and further highlights the need for education.

Mr Ewbank said in order to specify or regulate flame retardant treated wood correctly it was vital to understand key terminology, flame retardant products and treatment processes.

The WPA’s Flame Retardant Specification Manual is already established and the WPA Benchmark FR Scheme has been widely adopted throughout the UK market. Its Guidance Notes also give clear answers to technical and regulatory FAQs, while notes on timber cladding and fire and compliance with the CPR have been produced under the Strategic Partnership Agreement with the TTF.

In addition, an online training resource on the correct specification and testing of FR treated wood, aimed at building control officers and specifiers offers CPD accreditation and is soon to be RIBA approved.

The industry has to remain on the front foot and united on this issue, going the extra mile to safeguard the ongoing use of timber in the building industry.

Lack of knowledge, dramatic fires in the headlines and a change in specification trends is a potentially damaging cocktail for the timber sector.

As our softwood market report says – getting fact over fiction is always an arduous task. But with so much at stake, failure is surely not an option.