Fire curtain regulations in the UK

Including, the status quo of BS EN 16034 and BS 8524 today

An Adexon® Fire & Smoke white paper
Read time: 15 minutes

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Fire curtains are a critical fire safety product which , when used correctly and in adherence with current regulations, offer designers many new architectural possibilities whilst maintaining excellent fire compartmentation and protection of escape routes.

This white paper is aimed at fire engineering consultants, architects and purchasers. It outlines the regulations that apply to vertical fire curtains in the UK today (hereinafter referred to as fire curtains) and provides guidance to those responsible for procuring fire curtains.

We also include the status quo of the two most prevalent fire curtain standards used in the UK, BS EN 16034 and BS 8524. However, it is important to know, as BSi tell us, that “standards aren’t the same as regulations and following a standard doesn’t guarantee that you’re within the relevant laws. In fact, standards rarely cite the law as legislation could change within the lifetime of the standard1.

The primary importance is compliance with the regulations. If you would like a deep dive into the aforementioned standards, you can find this in our white paper ‘A technical comparison of BS EN 16034 and BS 8524’2. We do not discuss ISO 21524 as it is not widely used in the UK.

Some context to why this white paper is an important read for anyone involved in fire curtains:

1 . “Fire safety liability is one of the biggest challenges for most architects; 51% of architects say that liability when it comes to fire safety is one of the biggest challenges their company faces, with 43% [of architects are] constantly worried about liability when it comes to the specification of systems for fire safety, even if they do not personally specify the products3.

Examples that serve to underline these worries include,

    • Insurer not required to pay for fire where sprinkler was off4, published in the Risk Management section of the Business Insurance journal, and
    • London leaseholders take legal action against building owner over fire safety defect5, published by International Fire & Safety Journal,

2 . Richard Millet, KC, Lead Counsel to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, in his closing statements in Nov 2022 said: ‘Behind all of these discrete factors there lay… an overreliance… on guidance… much of which was created by non-governmental bodies and influenced by commercial interests

2. Construction Products Regulations (CPR)

The legislation applying to construction products has changed significantly over the past decade. The CE Marking Association point out, “There has been a European Directive (89/106/EEC) covering Construction Products since 1991, which was only voluntary in the UK. However, since 1st July 2013, the old Directive was replaced by the new Construction Products Regulation (305/2011/EU) making it mandatory for construction products in the UK (and the rest of Europe) to be CE marked.6.

The government guidance on the ‘Construction Products Regulations’ states that it “includes requirements for construction product to have CE marking and to be accompanied by a declaration of performance (DoP) and other information if it is to be placed on the market in the European Economic Area and it is covered by…a harmonised European product standard…

The guidance also clarifies that “All existing harmonised European standards became UK ‘designated standards. This means that harmonised European standards and UK designated standards are currently identical.” Further, it states “Accepted marking or combination of markings” for “Construction product being supplied to the GB market until 30 June 2025” are “UKCA or CE or CE & UK(NI)”.

For fire curtains, BS EN 16034 is the only harmonised standard available and hence the only standard available to CE mark fire curtains to. It has applied since 1st November 2019, its scope being “applicable to all fire resisting and/or smoke control products intended to be used in fire and/or smoke compartmentation and/or escape routes, which are… rolling shutters or operable fabric curtains… and which are manually or power operated and… normally held open but self-closing in case of fire or smoke… and completed… with or without any seals (e.g. for smoke control, fire resistance…)”.

It is used in conjunction with the standard EN 13241-1:2003+A2:2016; Industrial, commercial, garage doors and gates – Product standard, performance characteristics.  This standard “specifies the safety and performance requirements for doors, gates and barriers, intended for installation in areas in the reach of persons”. Confirming the tandem nature of the standards, EN 13241-1 states in paragraph 1.1 that “Fire resisting and/or smoke control characteristics for industrial, commercial, garage doors and gates are covered by EN 16034.”

Conversely, even before support for BS 8524 in its current form fell away (see ‘Compliance Considerations’ section), BS 8524 was not harmonised and could not therefore offer fire curtains a route to compliance with the CPR.

As such, to keep BS 8524 legal for fire curtains after 1st Nov 2019, one would have to argue that BS EN 16034 didn’t apply (to fire curtains). However, if this were the case (if BS EN 16034 didn’t apply to fire curtains), third party certification would not be available for it. As third party certification is available for fire curtains to BS EN 16034, it is clear that BS EN 16034 does apply to fire curtains.

Even from a product argument perspective (setting aside for one moment all the work of the Accreditation Bodies, and Certification and Notified Bodies), whilst it could be argued that horizontal and even concertina fire curtains aren’t covered by BS EN 16034, it is difficult to see a valid technical case for vertical fire curtains. To be successful, it would mean differentiating between vertical fire curtains and fire shutters, two products that are essentially the same (there is no debate about fire shutters coming under BS EN 16034).

Indeed, the similarity between the products is such that when someone asks, What is a fire curtain?, the easy answer is to say, Are you familiar with roller shutters – they are the same but just with a steel fabric curtain instead of the steel scroll lath curtain. As above, this argument would run contrary to the position taken by the major Notified Bodies across Europe where the CPR also applies; for example, in July 2018, in preparation for the harmonisation of EN 16034, Applus+ (Notified Body Nr. 0370) published ‘New CE Marking for fabric fire curtains’7.

Additionally, if there were a case for differentiating products based on the micro differences between fire shutters and fire curtains, a ‘need’ would arise for a multitude of new product standards. This would be impractical, and create confusion for the consumer with multiple standards to chose from, most of which would suit a ‘for-profit’ manufacturer and it’s stakeholders rather than being ‘safety-first’.

With the accompanying CE marking and requisite record keeping, audit trail requirements, and transparency, it is in the interests of consumer safety for a product to be included under a harmonised standard, as opposed to looking for reasons to exclude a product from the safety of the CPR.

There is inherent and serious risk in buying or specifying construction products that do not comply with the CPR. If a complaint is raised by a consumer as to a product not being legally compliant, could insurance companies withdraw fire cover for the asset and/ or could the consumer sue for damages due to latent defects?

The safe perspective is that fire curtains are a construction product that fall under the CPR and must legally be CE (or UKCA) marked.

In the BSi publication of BS EN 16034, the foreword of the harmonised standard states, “This European Standard shall be given the status of a national standard… and conflicting national standards shall be withdrawn at the latest by October 2019.” BS 8524 comes under the category of ‘conflicting national standards’. BSi have added a ‘National foreword’ that refers to BS 8524 as they have historically supported it. However, they follow with this disclaimer in bold, ‘Compliance with a British Standard cannot confer immunity from legal obligations‘. ‘Legal obligations’ would include compliance with the CPR for construction products as evidenced by third party certification from a Certification Body.

3. Guidance for those responsible for purchasing fire curtains

Three common scenarios exist:

1 . Where you are advised to buy fire curtains that do not comply with the CPR.

Ask for indemnity, backed by a AAA-rated insurer, against adverse consequences. It may also be prudent to provide the insurers with information relating to fire curtain regulations in the UK such as covered in this white paper. This is so the insurers can’t say subsequently that there was material evidence available that they weren’t made aware of.

2 . Where you are concerned about fire curtains you have installed or purchased since 1st November 2019 not complying with the law.

The government guidance on the ‘EU Construction Products Regulation and CE marking, including UK product contact point for construction products’ advises: “If you have concerns regarding other construction products not being CE marked, then you should contact either the local authority Trading Standards office or alternatively the Trading Standards office for the area where the product manufacturer concerned has its head office8. Again, you should provide information relating to fire curtain regulations in the UK such as covered in this white paper, in support of your claim. Being ahead of future claims by other parties is vital for mitigating damages. If you can be seen to be proactively remediating issues, you may avert insurance being refused or a building being deemed unsafe for use. And, most importantly, being on the right side of the law is critical for a life safety product that depends on reliability of performance to save lives.

3 . Where you are in the predicament of having placed orders for products you are concerned about.

Evaluate whether having to U-turn on existing procurement is worse than installing something non-compliant. Factor in the costs involved now, such as programme overrun, and see if this can be mitigated by accelerated production of replacement orders. Compare this with the potential future costs such as the building being uninsurable, or having insurance that doesn’t cover fire, or the building being unusable and having to rehouse the users and occupants whilst remediation works are carried out due to fire risks, or the costs of latent defect claims, or the PR cost of complaints. Factor in probability and make a numbers-driven decision.

4. Common standards

Having explored the regulations applicable to fire curtains, let’s look at the two most commonly used standards for active fire and smoke curtains in the UK, BS 8524 and BS EN 16034.

As we touched on above, BS 8524 comes in the category of ‘conflicting national standards’ referred to in the harmonised standard foreword of the BSi publication of BS EN 16034. You will see more why these two are competing standards by reading on. To say they are complimenting standards is a contradiction that has only been circulated since BS 8524 lost its third party certification backing.

What is BS EN 16034:2014?

In short, the scope of 16034 is to identify safety and performance requirements applicable to all products intended to be used in fire and/or smoke compartmentation or protecting escape routes, specifically doorsets, rolling shutters, openable windows and operable fabric curtains. The performance specifications include references to other standards which contain definitions for fire resistance and smoke control.

What is BS 8524-1:2013?

Part 1 of BS 8524 specifies requirements for the design, testing and classification of active fire curtain barrier assemblies. It includes performance aspects relating to the reliability, durability, fire resistance, smoke containment and impact resistance of active fire curtain barrier assemblies, their control devices and ancillary equipment. For ease we refer to BS 8524 Part 1 simply as BS 8524 in this white paper. BS 8524-2 is a code of practice related to installation and maintenance but, needless to say, it is dependent on the product being available.

5. Third party certification

Aside from the legal requirements of the CPR, International Fire Consultants (IFC) and Warringtonfire have withdrawn from offering third party certification to BS 8524 within the last two years, and there are currently no Certification Bodies certifying products tested to this standard. The harmonisation of BS EN 16034 in 2019 may have contributed to this decision, directly or indirectly.

This means that the last remaining third party certification for BS 8524 expires on 9th June 2023. After this, BS 8524 enters ‘free-for-all’ territory, opening the door for anyone to claim they have passed some or all of the applicable tests and sell non-certified BS 8524 fire curtains.

In contrast, BS EN 16034 provides a level of traceability, assurance, and transparency that BS 8524 does not (and cannot) provide without third party certification and/or CE marking. From a fire safety perspective, this alone makes BS EN 16034 clearly preferred and recommended, even before factoring in the legal aspect of the Construction Product Regulations.

On 23rd June 2022 IFC cited, “The recent retirement of critical staff combined with an organisational restructure has left the business technically unable to deliver this scheme“, as the reason for withdrawing.

Audits and Factory Production Control (FPC) are a vital part of third party certification. These are to ensure that the manufactured product is the same as the tested specimen. The importance of this cannot be overstated for a life safety product, especially at a time when manufacturing practices of such products are under scrutiny post Grenfell.

Third party certification and its considerable costs are justified (and should be insisted on) for life safety products. The alternative is to leave manufacturers to their own ‘for-profit’ devices. If the merits of third party certification were debatable, then it would quickly disappear to save manufacturers the cost burden and hence allow them to pass on the savings to the consumer. The industry is unanimous as to maintained third party certification being essential for life safety products.

The ASFP supports this in their Advisory Note – ASFP position on Performance Smoke Seals in Active Fire Curtains Document, saying, “any passive fire protection system… should be fully backed up by third party certification for the manufactured product9.

Whilst BS 8524 is no longer available with third party certification, BS EN 16034 is available with third party certification from the major certification bodies across Europe. These certification bodies are themselves accredited by UKAS or equivalent. This is the gold standard and ensures compliance which is why the industry say it should be mandatory for life safety products such as fire curtains. Having the product checked by an unbiased third party is vital to ensuring all life safety products have constancy of performance.

Important:  Carefully examine the documentation accompanying the products to ensure that it originates from a reputable Certification Body rather than the manufacturer. Some paperwork may have been produced by a Certification Body on page one, but subsequent pages are generated to a similar style by the manufacturer, or vice versa. This could give the impression that the entire document originates from the Certification Body. Therefore, it is advisable to conduct due diligence and scrutinise the documentation.

If your fire curtain supplier works with Applus+ (Notified Body No. 0370), the third party certification will come with a relatively detailed Technical Annexe including sizes tested and components used. This information is invaluable to the buyer in making sure what is purchased has actually been tested and certified.

The future of BS 8524?

Will BS 8524 be third party certified again in the future by another Certification Body? There are a number of reasons why this may never happen:

1 . There is a long and indefinite timeline involved in this:

a) The new (revised) BS 8524 would have to be created and published which could take in excess of a year

b) After this, a scheme would need to be created for the new BS 8524 (see next point). This could take a further year, or more

c) After this, all manufacturers would have to test all their products and go through the certification again. This could take in excess of another year or two

2 . A UKAS accredited scheme for certification to a new BS 8524 will take months if not years for a Certification Body to develop and have approved, even if it is a priority for them.

3 . Is there a big enough market in the UK to sustain a separate UK standard for fire curtains?

BS 9999

BS 8524 is referred to in guidance BS 9999:2017, the code of practice for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings. However, since BS 9999 was published:

1 . BS EN 16034 was harmonised, and remains the only harmonised standard for fire curtains; and

2 . BS 8524 third party certification was withdrawn.

3 . Richard Millett KC, Lead Counsel to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, in his closing statements, referred to ‘outdated guidance’, ‘Behind all of these discrete factors there lay complex, opaque, and piecemeal legislation and an overreliance by law and policy makers on guidance, some of which, including the statutory guidance, was ambiguous, dangerously out of date, and much of which was created by non-governmental bodies and influenced by commercial interests’ (emphasis added).

Regarding this latter highlighted point, in the scenario of BS 8524 products being sold without third party certification, fire safety would be in the hands of commercial interests. There would be no UKAS or equivalent accredited Certification Body carrying out FPC, paperwork auditing, checks and assurance that makes third party certification so valuable and essential for a life safety product.

There are other authorities as well as the ASFP who state the importance of third party certification, such as the Fire Industry Association’s ‘Guide to the UK Fire Safety Industry 2022-2023’ article on company third party certification in the fire industry.

6. Summary of key points to consider

Some key points from the above:

  • standards aren’t the same as regulations and following a standard doesn’t guarantee that you’re within the relevant laws1 BSi
  • 51% of architects say that liability when it comes to fire safety is one of the biggest challenges their company faces, with 43% [of architects are] constantly worried about liability when it comes to the specification of systems for fire safety3
  • The government guidance on the ‘Construction Products Regulations’ “includes requirements for construction product to have CE marking… if… it is covered by…a harmonised European product standard…6
  • BS EN 16034 is the only harmonised standard available for fire curtains and hence the only standard available to CE mark fire curtains to.
  • As such, to keep BS 8524 legal for fire curtains after 1st Nov 2019, one would have to argue that BS EN 16034 didn’t apply (to fire curtains). However, if this were the case (if BS EN 16034 didn’t apply to fire curtains), third party certification would not be available for it. As third party certification is available for fire curtains to BS EN 16034, it is quite clear that BS EN 16034 does apply to fire curtains.
  • Compliance with a British Standard cannot confer immunity from legal obligations‘ (BSi)
  • Where you are advised to buy fire curtains that do not comply with the CPR.
    Ask for indemnity, backed by a AAA-rated insurer, against adverse consequences
  • Where you are concerned about fire curtains you have installed or purchased since 1st November 2019 not complying with the law.
    Refer to the government guidance on the ‘EU Construction Products Regulation and CE marking, including UK product contact point for construction products’8
  • Where you are in the predicament of having placed orders for products you are concerned about.
    Evaluate whether installing something non-compliant is worse than having to U-turn on existing procurement.
  • BS 8524 comes in the category of ‘conflicting national standards’ referred to in the harmonised standard foreword of the BSi publication of BS EN 16034. It is not a complimentary standard to BS EN
    16034.
  • International Fire Consultants (IFC) and Warringtonfire have withdrawn from offering third party certification to BS 8524. The last remaining third party certification for BS 8524 expires on 9th June 2023
  • ASFP say, “any passive fire protection system… should be fully backed up by third party certification for the manufactured product”.9
  • BS 8524 may never be third party certified again in the future by another Certification Body due to:
    • There is a long and indefinite timeline involved in this
    • Is there a big enough market in the UK to sustain a separate UK standard for fire curtains
  • Since BS 9999 was published:
    • BS EN 16034 was harmonised,
    • BS 8524 third party certification was withdrawn
    • Lead Counsel to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, in his closing statements, referred to ‘outdated guidance’

7. Conclusion

The CPR mandates construction products covered by a harmonised standard to be CE marked to that harmonised standard.

BS EN 16034 is the only harmonised standard available for fire curtains. It was harmonised on 1st Nov 2019.

There is inherent and serious risk in buying or specifying construction products that do not comply with the CPR. If a complaint is raised by a consumer as to a product not being legally compliant, could insurance companies withdraw fire cover for the asset and/ or the consumer sue for damages due to latent defects?

The safe perspective is that fire curtains are a construction product that fall under the CPR and must legally be CE (or UKCA) marked.

This white paper was written by the team at Adexon Fire & Smoke in October 2022 (revised 16th March 2023). It includes the views of the Adexon team and its intention is to raise awareness and standards in the fire safety industry.

If you have a question for the team or would like to give feedback to this white paper or find out more, please get in touch.

8. Additional reading

For a deep dive about BS 8524 and BS EN 16034, read our white paper ‘A technical comparison of BS EN 16034 and BS 8524’2

For an example of going above and beyond legal compliance, read ‘Are cold smoke seals in fire curtains a cause for concern?’10

If you are interested in impact testing, read why the design of the fabric retention and the durability of fire curtain designs is paramount, ‘Fabric retention design on fire curtains – why does it matter?’11

9. References