CPD 03 2024: Exploring the A to Z Essential Principles

This Rockwool-sponsored CPD module examines the A to Z Essential Principles relating to passive fire safety by RISCAuthority, highlighting the importance of going above and beyond the Building Regulations to better protect buildings and their occupants. Deadline for completion Friday 26 April 2024.

The A to Z of Essential Principles guidance sets out to investors, on behalf of insurers, how to design and construct resilience into built assets, beyond Building Regulations requirements

RISCAuthority is an annually funded research scheme supported by a group of UK insurers. Underpinned by extensive research and risk analysis with the goal of better protecting properties and businesses, guides and recommendations for risk management in areas of fire and security are published through its sister company, the Fire Protection Association (FPA).

The FPA was established in 1946 by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to be the core voice of fire safety for the Fire Offices’ Committee – sharing fire safety messages and information to government, businesses, members and the wider public.

RISCAuthority’s BDM01 A to Z of Essential Principles for the protection of buildings is an orderly recommendation to investors, on behalf of insurers, not to design and build solely down to the “life safety before collapse” objective on the assumption that the project is a “common building situation”. Instead, it aims to define and insist upon the resilience their investment requires, beyond statutory guidance or Building Regulations. It calls for resilient construction innovation to improve health and life safety with measures anticipating likely events involving fire and water.


  • To gain deeper knowledge of the A to Z Essential Principles relating to passive fire safety
  • To understand the importance of going above and beyond the Building Regulations
  • To apply these principles to different building considerations and consider the effects on your current projects

The Essential Principles

RISCAuthority’s design guide for the fire protection of buildings addresses 12 key principles that should be considered in order to design and construct safer buildings. These basic principles, which aim to enable adequate property and business insurance protection, will be explored in further detail in this module. Please note that all views presented do not express the views or opinions of the FPA.

The documents are principally concerned with reducing the risk to occupants and damage to property and business in the event of a fire, thereby minimising fire and smoke damage as well as consequent business interruption.

While not mandatory, the documents encourage consultation with insurers at the earliest stage to influence insurance terms and are supplementary to the requirements of the Building Regulations.

Individual insurance companies will have their own requirements, which may be different from or not reflected in the content of the essential principles document, for example, specific use buildings may require additional measures above and beyond the basic requirements.

A resilience strategy by the initiating investor can ensure the continuity of service a property provides. Resilience may be broken into three phases:

  • Susceptibility – avoiding fire and water-related perils being an issue, for example, by building with non-combustible materials
  • Vulnerability – reducing the extent of fire damage, by building in passive fire safety measures
  • Recoverability – improving the rapid recovery to full capability following fire-related events.

Passive fire protection

The key principles relating to passive fire protection in the A to Z Essential Principles are as follows:

  • Principle D: maximise non-combustibility
  • Principle E: anticipate arson attempts
  • Principle F: monitor building services
  • Principle H: extend structural stability
  • Principle I: reduce fire severity
  • Principle J: control compartment cavities
  • Principle L: resist fire ingress
  • Principle N: minimise consequential damage
  • Principle T: procure quality materials
  • Principle U: require competent work
  • Principle V: verify recorded information
  • Principle Y: keep maintenance commitments.

The six decision-making phases referenced in BDM01-6.1 along with the 26 alphabetical principles have been represented as an iterative process mapped to the eight work stages in the RIBA Plan of Work 2020. In this way, the A to Z of Essential Principles has a loose fit to any plan of work, with an emphasis on early consultation.

Designers must insist on procurement of materials and products with third-party certification accredited by UKAS

Maximise non-combustibility

The primary action of essential principle D is to ensure materials in all products and systems are non-combustible, so far as reasonably practicable, with “non-combustible” being defined as class A1 or class A2-s1, d0 (when tested as principle S under BS EN 13501-1:2018 Fire classification of construction products and building elements – classification using data from reaction to fire tests).

Investors choosing combustible constructions (with reference to regulation 7 of the Building Regulations 2010) should appreciate that the cost of insurance may rise as insurers estimate potential losses. In addition, system testing to BS 8414 shall not be relied on to contradict the requirement for non-combustible materials, nor does it provide any measure of external wall fire resistance.

Anticipate arson attempts

Arson is the criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property and is the most common cause of fire in the UK (accounting for 50.5% of all fires attended by fire and rescue services annually).

There are numerous examples of fire disasters as a result of arson attacks. Arsonists gained access to a flat roof at St Alban’s Primary School in Wednesfield, in the West Midlands, and set off a blaze that required dozens of firefighters to control. The school remained closed for weeks, causing 177 pupils to be relocated to other schools.

This risk, however, can be mitigated. In April 2012, an arsonist set fire to a recycling bin beneath the recently installed insulation system on a four storey residential block in the UK. This system incorporates a non-combustible stone-wool core. Thankfully, the fire did not spread and, despite cosmetic damage to the paint and render, there was little damage to the system. The building continued to be occupied and, after the incident, residents were back in their homes within hours.

An independent fire investigator from the FPA concluded: “The fire spread did not appear to significantly affect the external surfaces of the thermal insulation material beneath the surface.”

The Essential Principles guidance recommends introducing measures to prevent, so far as reasonably practicable, an anticipated arson attack from an external fire source either thrown or positioned to cause damage anywhere within or around the building, particularly at lower storeys.

Monitor building services

Ensure all building services, including local sources of renewable energy or mains utility connections, are designed, installed, commissioned and maintained to prevent them from being a cause of fire, ignition, smoke spread, or water damage. These services must be maintained by contractors operating under a third-party quality of work scheme to manufacturer requirements. The use of non-combustible insulation on building services installations (such as ductwork or pipework) can or may reduce the fire load within a building.

Extend structural stability

Approved Document B states that the building shall be designed and constructed so that, in the event of fire, its stability will be maintained for a reasonable period – to ensure everyone can safely escape a burning building. However, the Essential Principles guidance encourages all those involved in the construction of buildings to surpass this.

Essential principle H recommends engineering against structural collapse and excessive deflection within compartment walls and floors, in order to accommodate all imposed loads in fire situations, beyond the statutory life safety requirement and risk of accidental disproportionate collapse. The building’s primary structure should be engineered and constructed by a combination of the following:

  • Prevent partial structural collapse for an extended period of time
  • Accommodate all imposed loads in the expected non-fire and fire situations
  • Consider the building as an entity and in the structure of compartments
  • Prevent collapse of the primary roof structure as principle H.1, regardless of roof collapse being accepted in some circumstances in statutory guidance as not a risk to health and life safety, when extended fire resistance in a protected zone of the roof as principle I.5 is included in the resilience strategy as principle A
  • Minimise movements by limiting deflections in expected non-fire situations
  • Define tolerances through iterations of a movements and tolerances report
  • Remove the risk of accidental disproportionate collapse of the primary structure
  • Protect from consequential damage, facilitate a simple repair and plan salvage
  • Specify any maintenance required by the primary structure as principle Y.

Reduce fire severity

Compartmentation is a vital part of the fire safety design of a building and seeks to divide large spaces into smaller, more manageable ones should a fire occur. Fire resistance requirements depend on the building type and application, as well as size and occupation levels. The main aim is to provide a continuation of the fire separation.

Compartmentalise and fully protect the building with a sprinkler system so that if a fire starts, the extent of fire, heat and smoke damage should be minimised and confined in the compartment of origin, so far as reasonably practicable.

The Essential Principles guidance also encourages the adoption of higher fire resistance requirements than those laid out in Approved Document B, in order to attain enhanced compartmentation. The purpose of enhanced compartmentation is to achieve a complete burnout of the contents of the compartment, recognising that the fire and rescue service need to intervene to confirm extinguishment before the fire event can eventually be considered over.

This is achieved through the use of fire-resistant walls and floors designed and tested to prevent the passage of fire, smoke and heat for a set period of time.

Essential principle H recommends engineering against structural collapse and excessive deflection within compartment walls and floors, to accommodate all imposed loads in fire situations

Control compartment cavities

Design out cavities within internal compartment walls and floors, so far as reasonably practicable, and where cavities are necessary, provide cavity barriers or fire stopping to prevent extensive routes for flame, heat and hot or cold smoke. Principle J shares nine key recommendations to control compartment cavities, including:

  • Intumescent materials are not used if they may fail to activate immediately to prevent the passage of flame, heat, and hot or cold smoke. For example, pipe wraps expand and maintain their seal as the penetrating pipe softens and deforms. However, open-state cavity barriers are designed to leave a clear cavity and should not be used to close cavities where there are materials that can burn and spread flames and smoke.
  • Linear joint fire stopping should be tested to BS EN 1366-4:2021, with the static non-combustible substrate of the furnace test further considered when applied to the substrate of construction subject to the movements and tolerances report.

Resist fire ingress

Resist external fire ingress into the premises by party wall separation from any adjoining building, sterilisation of roofs, and control of external fire resistance with distance between neighbouring buildings, so far as reasonably practicable. Key recommendations include: adjoining buildings separated by compartment walls with protected zones; roofs to resist ignition by radiation and “burning brands” carried in the wind; calculate percentage of non-fire-resistant unprotected area in external walls; green roofs and walls considered as a variable ignitable external fuel load; and permanent external storage controlled by the facilities manager.

Minimise consequential damage

Building fires can have a significant impact on the environment, affecting the air, water and soil quality. Short-term fire effects include the impact on the local environment within the fire plume zone and the water run-off zone. The long-term effects are more likely to impact the water supply and contaminate soils in the area of the fire. The smoke plume created by the fire is the largest contributor to potential air contamination.

Firefighters and automatic sprinklers use water and other extinguishing agents to prevent the fire from spreading. Run-off resulting from the large quantities of water used should be treated before the water enters and disrupts nearby watercourses.

Invest in measures to limit the extent of damage caused by heat, smoke and water in the event of a fire, and by escape-of-water incidents, ensuring assets and the environment are minimally affected, so far as reasonably practicable.

Procure quality materials

Before any fire protection material, product or system can be placed on the market, it must undergo fire testing appropriate to its designed intent. Generally, there are three tiers of evidence used to support products in the market:

  • First-party certification – individual or organisation provides goods or services with an offer of assurance that they meet certain claims.
  • Second-party certification – an association to which the individual or organisation belongs provides some assurance by virtue of membership.
  • Third-party certification – an independent verification and assessment undertaken by a certification body which is accredited by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS).

Specifiers and contractors will require the certification document to support the product’s application and the golden thread of information. It is important to note that fire test data only provides the actual tested construction data and will not contain the scope of application.

Designers must insist upon the procurement of materials, products and systems that offer third-party certification accredited by UKAS, proof of service life in application, and full disclosure of fire safety information.

Require competent work

Confirm protection measures are installed by identified specialists, trained and supervised under third-party quality of work schemes accredited by UKAS, with full disclosure of fire safety information. Independent schemes of certification and accreditation of installers can provide confidence that the required level of performance for a system, product, component or structure can be achieved.

Protection measures must be installed by specialists trained and supervised under third-party accreditation

Verify recorded information

Accept only pertinent and accurate information at handover, insisting contractors satisfy statutory and contractual duties, and checking that recorded information provides full disclosure of the premises as built and commissioned for facilities management.

Handover of the works occurs in RIBA work stage 6, when the building is practically complete under contract. The moment of handover does not mean the building is fully complete, though the works must be completed sufficiently. An as-built plan of the building should include:

  • Escape routes
  • Location of fire-separating elements and fire doorsets
  • Locations of fire detection devices, alarm controls, fire safety signage, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers and other fire fighting equipment
  • Sprinkler systems and smoke control systems
  • Areas of high risk (places of special fire hazard)
  • Specifications of fire safety equipment and maintenance schedules
  • Assumptions regarding the management of fire safety arrangements
  • Provisions for the evacuation of disabled people.

Only with a resilience strategy will the fire safety information exchange be about more than health and life safety, as important as that is. If the wider purpose is strategically defined by the investor in a resilience strategy, before planning application stage, the meaning of compliance will be strengthened beyond health and life safety.

Keep maintenance commitments

Inspect regularly, test and, when required, promptly maintain or replace structure, construction or building services systems over the life of the building, employing specialist operatives trained and supervised under third-party certified schemes.

Inspection and maintenance works should ensure that:

  • Systems are working correctly
  • Active systems will activate in the case of fire
  • Passive systems remain intact, in place and undamaged
  • People using the building are aware of the procedure should a fire occur
  • Any changes to the use or layout of the building still have adequate fire procedures and protection measures in place.

All those involved in the design and construction of buildings need to consider the building as a system, ensuring that the whole envelope is non combustible and not just the facade. Always consider third-party approved contractors and third-party approved products to ensure the product installed is the product tested, and remember that non-combustible HVAC insulation can support in reducing the fire load.

Compliance with insurance industry guidance may help premiums, but will also help manage risk and potentially save costs and lives.

Please fill out the form below to complete the module and receive your certificate: