Passive Fire Protection – its form, benefits and use

Passive fire protection, usually spray applied, is used extensively for protection of structural steelwork in a fire environment, preventing collapse of structures and allowing safe evacuation of the facility. In the early days of spray applied fire protection products based on cement, usually containing vermiculite, were typically used in both commercial building structures and in the oil and gas, hydrocarbon processing industries.

Over many years both industries changed and in the oil and gas industry the realisation that a ‘standard’ specification of cement-based fireproofing would not provide adequate fire protection in severe oil and gas fires became evident. In the mid-1980s the advantages and benefits of epoxy intumescent materials became better understood and in a short period of time epoxy intumescent materials displaced cement-based materials, particularly for offshore installations. Along the way further appreciation of the dangers of offshore fire and explosion were put into focus in 1987 with the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea in which 170 people lost their lives after a major fire and explosion.

In the commercial and public building market, or ‘built environment’, so-called ‘thin-film’ intumescent materials, either water or solvent-based, have become very extensively used particularly where the structural steelwork is exposed to view.

Such materials in the UK account for around a 70% market share of protected steelwork.  Aligning structural engineering specifications, fire safety engineering strategies and architectural requirements can pose a challenging task in an environment where occupant safety is paramount.  The balance between economic efficiency and quantified structural integrity is important to consider to ensure a robust and safe solution.

Despite decades of experience a true understanding of passive fire protection requirements and issues has tended to reside with a limited number of organisations and individuals. PFP Specialists can provide independent advice in a number of these areas.