Concerns and Response

FIRE BRIGADE

The Fire Brigade concerns were essentially that the Expanded Polystyrene core (EPS core) of Insulated Sandwich Panel (ISP) added to the fire spread, fire load and consequently to the structural stability of the Panels in a fire. The main concern is that the Panel can, under certain conditions, delaminate, wherein the outer skins come away from the core material and expose the core material to the fire. Another concern was of the structural stability of the Panels during a fire in that they collapse, therefore making fire fighting more hazardous and again causing the core to be exposed. The other major concern was about for fire spreading undetected within the Panel to other parts of the building.

In reviewing case studies, the most common criticisms of Insulated Panel performance have been failure of the Panel Systems to stay in place and therefore falling on fire fighters and allowing fire spread, fire spread within the Panels, the combustibility of the EPS core, poor ventilation of the smoke, poor way finding, and difficulties in Panel identification.

INDUSTRY RESPONSE

Despite the clear benefits of using ISP, the adverse view of the performance of ISP’s in fire was having a detrimental impact upon the take up and use of these Panels. Exaggerated claims by competitors and muted changes to regulations and standards brought more pressure to the ISP Panel industry. There had been previous invitations by the Fire Brigades to work together on this issue and in time the industry decided to accept the invitation. The Insulated Panel Council Australasia Incorporated Ltd (IPCA Ltd.) then decided to take a proactive approach and undertook research and testing to clarify the true performance of ISP in fire conditions and identify the true weaknesses and problems. This information was used in the development of the CODE to produce a better performing Panel. Leaders in the industry were of the belief that it was their role and responsibility to address the matter, and that dealing with the problems themselves would reflect favourably on the whole industry.

IMPROVEMENTS MADE OVER TIME BUT NOT COMMUNICATED

One of the matters that did become evident was that improvements and enhancements made to ISP over the years had not been communicated to the markets, approval authorities and industry. Improvements such as fire retardant EPS, replacement of nylon fixings with steel fixings, steel used in lieu of aluminium etc. These improvements have been included in the CODE. There have been numerous changes to ISP over the years to the point that the Panel, connections and fixing systems now used do not reflect the Panels that are cited in the fire case studies.

The provision of post construction occupancy recommendations for better "housekeeping" and emergency procedures that include:

 
Implementing a regular inspection and maintenance regime for each Code Compliant EPS-FR Panel System;
Risk Management planning for the site with "Safe Work" and "Hot Work" permits;
Emergency procedures planning; and
Training to ensure experience, knowledge and standards remain relevant and applied.