top of page

Thanks for subscribing!

Planning your Passive Fire Protection Inspections

from our Director and Senior Fire Engineer - Rob Holland

Some tips for IQPs and Building owners to effectively prioritise your regular Passive Fire Protection inspections

Passive Fire Protection Inspection

In an earlier Passive Fire Protection LinkedIN post, I raised a question: How is it that buildings subject to annual BWOF inspections can continue to have massive, life threatening passive fire Protection issues?

From the many buildings I've inspected in my career as a fire engineer, it has become evident to me that our BWOF and Compliance Schedule system is not working as it should. Serious, life threatening passive fire issues remain in buildings while new defects are often continually introduced as the next tradesperson comes along and punches more holes through key fire separations.

Owner's checks required by a Building's Compliance Schedule (prescribed in the Inspection, Maintenance and Reporting procedures) are intended to ensure that the passive fire systems in a building continue to perform adequately. So the root of the problem seems to be the inadequacy of these checks (which are more often than not contracted out), and those of the IQP who issues the annual BWOF (or Form 12A).

However, it is not fair to just blame the IQPs, owners or their agents conducting the checks, as they often face several barriers which hinder their inspections, including:

  • Lack of building information identifying where the fire separations are

  • Fire separations are concealed, and invasive/destructive inspections are not practical or desired by the owner and/or tenant.

  • Desire to avoid disruption to tenants (especially in apartment buildings)

  • Commercial pressures restricting the time available on-site

Common location of Fire Separations
Common location of Fire Separations

In my last article I gave some tips for finding fire separations when you might not have any building information. So, assuming you now (hopefully!) know where the fire separations are in your building (or have made some intelligent guesses!), what's the most effective way to conduct your passive fire protection inspections with the limited time and access available?

A risk based approach to plan your passive fire protection inspections

A risk assessment process is a great way to prioritise where to utilise your limited resources. By assessing which potential passive fire defects would have the most significant life safety impact, you can prioritise where to look and make sure your inspections have the most benefit to the occupants of the building.

Risk Assement illustration

In the list below, I've prioritised different types of firecell (from most critical to least) based on the level of life safety risk presented by compromises in the fire separations around them (with some notes to explain my reasoning):

  1. Vertical safe paths/ stairwells (potentially the longest queuing times, so must provide a safe haven for escaping occupants)

  2. Large fire-rated service risers and lift shafts (potential to spread fire and smoke throughout the building)

  3. Large firecells with high occupant density (for example, exhibition halls, conference rooms, theatres and the like where queue times are long and many people may be impacted by fire and smoke)

  4. Horizontal safe paths/ corridors (especially important for larger buildings with higher occupant numbers)

  5. Plant and equipment rooms, rubbish rooms (potentially high fuel loads and/or ignition risks, even higher risk if these are adjacent to corridors or stairwells)

  6. Between two apartments or spaces on the same level (fire and smoke will only affect the spaces each side)

This list is only a suggestion, and I'm open to disagreement or differing opinions (I may even have missed some!), but I suggest it is a good place to start to understand which passive fire defects may be more serious than others and, therefore, where to prioritise inspections.

How thorough should a Passive Fire Protection inspection be? How long should it take?

We would also recommend assessing each building's risk profile and consider allowing more time to inspect buildings with a higher risk profile. Factors to consider when assessing a building's risk profile would include:

  • Height (taller buildings take longer to evacuate therefore, the risk to occupants from smoke entering stairwells is higher)

  • Occupant characteristics (sleeping occupants who will take longer to evacuate? elderly? occupants who are detained or cannot easily evacuate for any reason)

  • Size/scale of the building and number of occupants (greater number of people at risk, longer evacuation times)

  • Sprinkler protected or not (risk of larger uncontained fires)

  • Age of the building (greater risk of defects in fire separations)

risk assessment image

The building's risk profile should be an major determinant of how much time you invest in a building and how thorough your inspection should be.

In summary, we must acknowledge that owner's checks and IQP inspections are often, unavoidably, limited in their scope and effectiveness due to a range of factors. However, this regime is extremely important as a way to regularly check our building stock and ensure it remains safe for all. Limited resources are best utilised when a risk-based approach is taken to prioritise inspections, and the level of risk should be assessed by considering not only the nature of the building itself but also the specific locations of possible compromises in the fire separations.

So, what would a 'good' inspection look like for a large, higher-risk building? This might just be the topic of my next article...


Nelligan Consulting Engineers has a great Fire Engineering team, including an in-house passive fire protection consultant team with expertise and knowledge to assist you with your project at various stages to ensure the installation is appropriately specified, compliant, cost-effective, and with minimal delays.


Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page