In this two-part series of blog posts, we will look at the common smoke control safety pitfalls. By examining the real reasons behind some low-cost smoke control systems, we can offer recommendations to mitigate unwanted risks.

What risks to smoke control safety can lower costs bring?

To begin with, the Smoke Control Association (SCA) recently published a white paper identifying the most common areas of non-compliance. The paper explains the implications and risks associated with using such products and systems.

Guidance on the Specification of Products and Systems for Smoke Shafts – WP001 aims to equip specifiers and buyers with the knowledge to be able to properly vet submissions to ensure they remain compliant. It also helps decision-makers reduce the risk of delays and costs associated with the replacement of sub-standard systems. Most importantly, it helps them avoid potential hazard to the occupants of the building if failures go undetected.

The Smoke Control Association white paper

The white paper states that “The primary objective of this document is to ensure that purchasers are able to fully understand submissions from specialists and can feel confident in questioning potential irregularities or inconsistencies; to ensure specifiers include relevant clauses in specifications and recommend the use of a knowledgeable, qualified organisation; and to offer advice to building control on what to look out for when assessing a smoke shaft system.”. Overall, smoke control systems are a very small component of a construction project, typically making up less than 0.25% of the build cost. However, they carry a disproportionate level of risk since they:

  • Protect the occupants of the building in the event of a fire and allow them to escape safely by keeping the exit routes free of smoke
  • Enable fire and rescue services to enter the building to fight the fire and give evacuation assistance where required
  • Must be in place before the occupation of the building

The basic requirements for smoke control are included within Approved Document B of the Building Regulations. However, on larger buildings, it is very common for an alternative fire-engineered approach to compliance to be employed. This enables more flexibility in building layout and in many cases reduces overall costs.

Smoke Control Safety and mechanical smoke shafts

Current Building Regulations and British Standards do not adequately detail the design and specification of mechanical smoke shafts. Consequently, there are many ‘grey areas’ that can be misinterpreted. The lack of clear guidance on best practices can result in solutions that could compromise the safety of building occupants and make it difficult to assess the suitability of proposals from vendors. Furthermore, the financial advantages of using non-certified products are considerable.

Our recommendations

To sum up, we recommend the white paper is required reading for anyone involved in specifying or purchasing smoke control packages to ensure that compliance with regulations is demonstrated and the safety of users of buildings is maintained.

In the second part of this series, we will look at the common grey areas in more depth and provide examples of cost savings that may be offered by vendors proposing non-compliant products.

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