Fire research results: analysis of actual fires (report).

EPIC’s research into major fires and the types of construction

This first major study of its kind analysed over 400 major fires in the industrial and commercial sector with a loss of more than £500,000. The research shows that insulated panels with rigid urethane cores were associated with only 3% of major building fires over the 10 year research period to 2001.

Of the handful of building fires in which external panels have become involved, the internal fire load was of sufficient magnitude to result in the collapse of the building structure. The contribution of the building panels in those fires was insignificant.

Summary of findings

  • Major losses are independent of the form of construction
  • 97% of fires were in constructions using’traditional’ building materials – brick, metal, asbestos, slates etc
  • Only 3% by value and number of fires involved rigid urethane insulated panel constructions compared to an estimated 15% of building stock in this sector
  • 13% of the fires, equivalent to 27% of monetary loss involved sandwich panels with polystyrene cores used internally
  • 80% of the major fires were associated with high internal fire load
  • Contents such as chemicals, plastics, paper, furniture, fabrics, rubber, timber are likely to lead to a total / major loss irrespective of the building materials

Research details

  • Research covered a 10 year period – 1992-2001
  • Largest research of its kind to look at the relationship between major fires and the building envelope
  • Sources of information were
    – Fire Protection Association records
    – EPIC’s data base records and photographs
    – Fire Service reports
    – FRS and Loss Prevention Council

There is no evidence to indicate that rigid urethane insulated panels designed for external application for roofs and walls and firmly supported by the building framework should be considered differently from other envelope construction materials.

These research findings also fully support the continuing demands from Insurance Industry and the Fire Services for better management of fire safety in the industrial and commercial sector; and the increased use of compartmentation in construction.

Research findings

Table 1: Analysis of major fires by number – 1992 to 2001

Type of construction
(industrial / commercial)

No. of fires over
£500,000 loss

Additional comments

Traditional –
brick/slate & tile/asbestos/some metal

92 (51.4%) 10 projects involved polystyrene panels installed internally

Metal cladding
(predominantly)

81 (44.5%) 13 projects involved polystyrene panels installed internally

Insulated panels
(polyurethane)

6 (3.4%) 3 projects originally reported as panels were found to be PU lining board.

Table 2: Analysis of major fires by value – 1992 to 2001

Type of construction
(industrial / commercial)

Value of fires
£’ M

Additional comments

Traditional –
brick/slate & tile/asbestos/some metal

531.3 (96.9%) £146.9M (26.8%) was in buildings using polystyrene panels installed internally – primarily in the food industry

Metal cladding (predominantly)

Insulated panels
(polyurethane)

16.9 (3.1%)

Insulated Panels used as roofs and walls

Insulated panels have been used for external roof and wall cladding since the mid 1970’s. EPIC estimate that over 100 million m2 are currently in use without problems or concerns. Over 95% of these panels were manufactured with a rigid urethane insulating core.

The Loss Prevention Council and the majority of Fire Services and insurance companies now recognise the totally different nature and performance of steel faced, structurally supported insulated panels used for external roofs and walls. This is due to the very low incidence of these panels in major fires and the relatively low risk of a fully secured panel to fire fighters.