Is compliance with a product standard a silver bullet?

Product standards are good servants but poor masters.

Whilst it is very tempting to simply look up the guidance (often out of date – ask Richard Millet, KC to the Grenfell Inquiry1) to see what product standards or tests are recommended, they are not a panacea or ‘silver bullet’ solution to selecting the right fire curtain for your project.

As an example, BS 8524-1 has some good points (every standard has pros and cons) but we also know that some of the worst fire curtains on the market have passed BS 8524-1. See an example in the centre of London on our blog post2. This is just a word of caution. We are not saying one product makes the standard thoroughly bad, far from it, it just serves to illustrate the point that a product standard is not a robust or stringent ‘selector’ that separates good and bad products.

The main product standards for fire curtains are BS EN 16034, BS 8524-1 (currently undergoing revision), and ISO 21524.

You could compare product standards with vehicles.

Which one do you choose?

With cars, they all get you from A to B*

* Hopefully they do. You couldn’t be too sure without an MOT, and it’s a bit risky without insurance. At the time of writing BS 8524-1 is akin to a car without a valid MOT (it has no independent product auditing and inspection) and without insurance (it has no valid third-party certification from a Notified Body).

With the above fire curtain product standards, they all have a fire test, smoke test, and cycle test.

After that, how do you choose?

Do you choose the SUV one, the seven-seater, or the sporty one?

It probably comes down to what you want to use it for.

Likewise, with fire curtains, what is most important for you?

After you have satisfied yourself that they have the fundamental tests to ensure they work in a fire, is it more important to have evidence of ancillary tests, or do you want a design that is lower maintenance and longer life? These decisions, using the standards available as ‘table stakes’, are what should guide your product selection.

In summary, whilst BS 8524-1 has enjoyed popularity historically, it is not legally required and – going by the products that were tested to it – it doesn’t guarantee safety benefits. More importantly, blindly insisting on BS 8524-1 makes the product standard the master and restricts the consumer to a narrow band of products that are not the best available.

Insisting on any product standard precludes you from products that are tested to other standards and means you could potentially miss out on something more suitable and even better value. Our recommendation is to consider any of the above standards as a suitable fundamental criterion for product selection and then make the majority of your decision based on the how the product design best suits your application.

If you are stuck with a fire strategy or other specification that is limiting your selection to just one or two of the product standards, speak with your fire engineer and/ or specifier and feel free to share this article, The basis for updating fire strategies to BS EN 16034 fire curtains in place of BS 8524-1 fire curtains4.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about fire curtains and their design characteristics, applications, and classifications, feel free to book a free RIBA accredited CPD3, or get in touch with one of the team, admin@adexon-uk.com / 0151 422 9111.

Important: this article is not disregarding the legal obligation to CE mark construction products to a Construction Products Regulations harmonised standard where there is a harmonised standard that covers the product. You  can read more about this with regards to fire curtains in our white paper, Fire curtain regulations in the UK5.

References

1 Adexon (2023) FAQ – is BS9999 dangerously out of date? Available at: https://www.adexon-uk.com/videos/is-bs9999-dangerously-out-of-date/ (Accessed: 22 February 2024)

2 Bigwood, T. (2023) Tom Bigwood on LinkedIn: #firesafety #firecurtains #smokecontrol. Available at: https://bit.ly/gsfcsurvey (Accessed: 29 August 2023)

3 Adexon Team (2023) RIBA accredited CPD course, LinkedIn. Available at: https://lnkd.in/e8RrY3Q6 (Accessed: 09 November 2023)

4 Adexon (2024) The basis for updating fire strategies to BS EN 16034 fire curtains in place of BS 8524-1 fire curtains. Available at: https://www.adexon-uk.com/articles/the-basis-for-updating-fire-strategies/ (Accessed: 23 February 2024).

5 Adexon Team (2023) Fire curtain regulations in the UK, Adexon Resources. Available at: https://www.adexon-uk.com/fire-curtain-regulations-in-uk/ (Accessed: 30 June 2023).