Fire safety in EU at risk due to German protectionism
Fire spreading up the facade of a building can be fast and even deadly. Due to significant fires involving the facade several EU Member States have implemented large scale facade fire tests.
Even though these different tests attempt to address the same problem they vary in size, geometry and especially fire load. Having many different tests for the same problem is a barrier to trade for industry in EU so a harmonized facade fire test is needed.
The European Commission (EC) has finally decided to address the issue of facade fire safety and the possibility of introducing a harmonized facade fire test. They have discussed the issue with representatives from Member States at two meetings already this year. But despite the fact that most Member States have expressed their wish for just one harmonized facade fire test; the EC has put forward a proposal that allows member states to choose between a small old German test, which only exists in a draft version and never became a formal DIN standard, and a British Standard test BS 8414 developed by BRE based on a considerable amount of research. A quick comparison of the two tests shows that the fire load in the draft German test is approximately 10 times lower than in the British test. Research sponsored by EURIMA shows that the tests provide very different results for the same facade systems.
Only Germany and Austria has specifically asked to have the old draft German test included as a harmonized EU test. The argument for incorporating such a test into a harmonized EU test is that German and Austrian producers of facade systems will not have to re-test their systems! A cost that admittedly would be considerable. However, producers of facade systems in all other Member States would be forced to re-test. Apparently the request is based on a desire to protect national industries.
The story of the old draft German test
So in Germany the situation at present is that a manufacturer of facade systems who already holds a national German type approval for his system based on the old German test can continue to uphold the approval after adding the new required safety features described by DIBt. Alternatively the manufacturer can test the system to the new larger test and if successful obtain an approval on a system without or with less added safety features. Apparently this latter option is appealing to several German manufacturers of facade systems because when enquiring at the German fire test laboratories about a test the wait time is almost 2 years!
How an outdated draft German fire test became part of a proposal from the EC
Harmonized EU test methods are supposed to be performance based providing Member States with the information needed to decide on their national safety level. The EC cannot impose specific regulatory requirements in the member states to complement inadequate test methods. The EC are aware of the issues in Germany and understands the limitations of the old German test. So sending out a proposal, which includes this outdated German test, can only be due to great pressure from Germany and German industry.
Adding to the shame of this proposal from the EC is that the additional safety features now required in Germany are only validated for one type of facade systems Ė ETICS. No information exists on how fire safety of other types of facade structures can be ensured if using the old German test.
I truly hope that all other Member States of the EU will stand up for a higher fire safety level and reject the use of an outdated German fire test at EU level. Fire tests should be performance based and provide information on how products perform when exposed to all relevant fire risks as is the case with the British test BS 8414. Letís future proof the harmonized EU fire testing system by adding a facade fire test that can provide the information needed to ensure fire safety of EUís citizens.
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Date : 04-11-2015