Fire protection is an important component of the health and safety regulations specified by the Australian Building Codes Board that builders are required to comply with in their buildings. To ensure compliance, a typical structure or building is subjected to structural fire testing, fire retardant testing, and fire propagation testing, among others.

Technological advancements over the years have ensured that building products are now manufactured with in-built safeguards to protect life and property. However, despite these developments, fire incidents continue to occur in buildings. Loss from fires, for instance, amounted to around $700 million in 2013-2014 in Australia alone. Fire testing, therefore, ensures that building products live up to their promise of protecting the building structure in the event of a catastrophic fire.

Evolution of building fire protection

Fire protection in the 19th century consisted of making improvements in structural design and the measures taken in response to fire as well as its prevention. Replacing combustible materials with non-combustible products, covering wood, and using an iron-and-brick system were some of the measures taken to fire-proof buildings.

Over time, with greater understanding of the thermo-mechanical behaviour of structures and their elements including the understanding of fire dynamics, advancements were made both in design and materials, leading to the development and application of fire retardants and other fire rating measures. These were defined and codified by building regulatory authorities to promote standard building performance and ensure structural integrity for years to come. 

The Australian regulatory fire test

Regulatory bodies have determined the minimum requirements for different materials and components of a building, which builders are required to meet to ensure compliance. Tests are conducted to ensure all products achieve the minimum requirement for use. One of these tests is a standard fire test for building components such as structural beams that are typically exposed to building fires. Treated beams (those that have been given a fire rating coating such as Nullifire SC902) are placed in a furnace to demonstrate their fire resistance and load-bearing capacity when under the stress of fire.

The AS 1530.4:2014 Standard sets out test procedures and criteria for the determination of fire resistance of various elements of building construction. It includes tests for combustibility and flammability of material as well as simultaneous determination of ignitability, flame propagation, heat release, and smoke release.

This structural fire testing aims to determine the performance of external construction elements when exposed to radiant heat, burning embers and burning debris in case of a cellulosic fire. It specifies procedures on testing furnace linings; walls; floors, roofs and ceilings - horizontal separation elements; columns; beams, girders, and trusses; doorsets and shutter assemblies; uninsulated glazing; air ducts; service penetrations and control joints; fire damper and air transfer grille assemblies in ducts; and critical services.

Fire resistance is measured in terms of temperature, pressure, time, deflection, received total heat flux, and integrity, along with other established determinants of fire resistance. These tests are conducted only by accredited and authorised fire rating experts in Australia. 

How to boost your structural fire retardant rating

If you want to ensure that your building complies with AS 1530.4:2014 for protection against fire, combine active fire protection with passive fire protection methods. Contact a Permax expert for more information.