According to government figures, the cost of fire to the economy of England and Wales is approaching £8 billion a year. This includes the direct losses from fire – property damage, death and injury and loss of output equating to some £3.3 billion, insurance administration and fire prevention measures costing £2.8 billion and the cost of providing fire cover reaching £1.7 billion.
Concrete performs very well in a fire. It does not burn and can play a central role in maintaining the integrity of a structure, preventing the spread of fire and protecting both lives and property. The fact that concrete can provide up to four hours fire resistance without the need for additional fire protection or sprinklers - which can fail due to severe events or poor maintenance - is a major advantage.
Concrete block - Fire resistance test
Concrete shield: protection in fire
Did you know concrete’s unique fire resistance means it does not burn. Concrete provides the best fire resistance of any building material. It does not burn, it cannot be 'set on fire' like other materials in a building and it does not emit any toxic fumes, smoke or drip molten particles when exposed to fire. Concrete and its mineral constituents enjoy the highest fire resistance classification (class A1) under EN 13501-1-1:2007 and A1:2009.
It offers this high level of protection for buildings whether under construction or completed, with no need for fire-proof boards or finishes that might be compromised due to poor installation, alterations or refurbishment. Therefore, it is a forgiving material: forgiving of the realities of what happens during the life of the building. Prudent designers who seek to minimise risk from fire can choose concrete and masonry, whilst still trying to ensure proper design specifications and workmanship.
Because of concrete’s inherent material properties, it can be used to minimise fire risk for the lowest initial cost while requiring the least in terms of ongoing maintenance. Building regulations only protect life safety, but concrete and masonry provide increased property security against fire.
Every fire causes financial loss and in most cases insurers have to pay for the damage and repair. For this reason, insurance companies keep comprehensive databases on the performance of construction materials. In mainland Europe, this information often results in reduced insurance premiums for concrete buildings due to their proven fire protection and resistance. For example, in France insurance premiums for warehouses built from concrete can be reduced by up to 20%.
The growing emphasis on risk avoidance means that the inherent fire resistance of concrete is being increasingly recognised, and it will be of no surprise if this is more widely recognised in lower insurance premiums in the UK.
Concrete can offer up to four hours fire resistance, well beyond the periods often stipulated by the Building Regulations for life safety. By providing an effective shield, it holds back the spread of flames, reducing the risk to people, property and the environment.