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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
Fire Safety of facades have been hotly debated in Germany the last years with both television programs and articles in several newspapers and magazines. This public debate caused the German Building Ministers to look into if the existing rules for national fire classification of facades were providing the required safety level. Their conclusion was that the old German test was appropriate for simulating a fire from a room, but it was too small to simulate a fire from the outside e.g. a fire in a trash container. So a different test method was designed and tests executed to investigate the performance of existing systems in this new type of scenario. Based on results from several tests the building ministers agreed that systems which had passed the old German tests could not pass the new test and could only be used on new buildings if additional strict safety measures were applied. These included among others the use of additional non-combustible stone wool fire barriers. This decision thereby recognized that the old test was not sufficient to determine if a facade system was safe in case of fire from the outside and only by adding additional safety measures to the facade system could they be used. So the German Building ministers know that their old test does not provide the fire safety level they want for their citizens! To compensate for this they have implemented additional prescriptive rules for facade systems. The rules can be found on the website of Deutsche Institut fur Bautechnik (DIBt).

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
Despite the debate in Germany and the knowledge of the German Building Ministers that their old test is not enough on its own to provide fire safety the German representatives in the Standing Committee on Construction in the EC continues to request that their old test becomes a harmonized EU test. This only to ensure that German manufacturers of facade systems do not have to re-test. This is protectionism. In Germany Fire Safety will be ensured by the additional safety features required to obtain an approval. But other member states will be left with an outdated test method, which is useless to determine if a facade system is safe from all possible fire attacks. The additional safety features that Germany know are needed will not be part of any EU harmonization as these belong in national regulations. Hence the safety of EU citizens in other EU member states are put at risk.

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.

Web Link: http://safeandsustainablebuildings.com/fire-safety-in-eu-at-risk-due-to-german-protectionism/#.VhuXfXPXXRA.twitter

Date : 04-11-2015