Special Report

A market-led response to fire-safety needs

A new Ulster University joint venture will bring world-class fire-safety testing to Ireland for the first time

One of the main objectives of FireSert is to help prevent tragedies such as Grenfell Tower (above). Photograph: iStock

One of the main objectives of FireSert is to help prevent tragedies such as Grenfell Tower (above). Photograph: iStock

 

The need for ever more rigorous enforcement of fire-safety standards was brought into sharp focus by the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy in London and the revelation that five recently built schools in Leinster had failed fire-safety audits.

The launch last August of Ireland’s first accredited industrial-scale fire-testing facility at Ulster University is all the more timely in this context. Efectis UK/Ireland Ltd is an innovative joint venture between Ulster University’s world-class FireSert (the Institute for Fire Safety Engineering Research and Technology) and Efectis Group, a leading international fire-science company with 16 offices and laboratories across Europe. The new company will offer 60 years of fire safety expertise in testing, modelling, certification and inspection to construction products manufacturers as well as the broader construction sector on the island of Ireland and further afield.

While Efectis will operate totally independently of Ulster University, it will make use of its best-in-class testing facilities and unique resources. This includes a 600sq m (6,460sq ft) burn hall which allows full-scale fire tests to be undertaken, a large-scale combination wall and floor furnace, as well as intermediate- and small-scale furnaces. These facilities are complemented by a fire dynamics and chemistry laboratory furnished with the latest testing equipment, as well as extensive dedicated computer facilities for modelling fire growth, smoke and toxicity.

The establishment of this unique new venture is very much market-led, according to Efectis UK/Ireland executive director Seán Nelson. “It can be quite difficult for Irish manufacturers to get their products tested and accredited to exacting fire-safety standards. At present, we are hearing about firms being quoted lead times of six or even nine month for testing and we have even heard of companies having products tested in Malaysia. The joint venture will help meet that demand on the island of Ireland as well as overseas.” Efectis UK/Ireland is already up and running from its new base in Jordanstown and is actively recruiting additional staff. “We already have enquiries from Irish firms and from across the UK and Europe,” says Dr Talal Fateh, general manager of Efectis UK/Ireland.

“The new joint venture will allow Ulster University’s FireSert to focus its research efforts on fire science, while Efectis UK/Ireland will concentrate on third-party assessment of products and buildings and assist government bodies with fire-safety issues. One of our main objectives is to be the main centre for construction fire safety on the island of Ireland and help to prevent similar tragedies to Grenfell Tower and to guarantee the safety of Irish buildings like schools and other public buildings,” Fateh adds.

Enhance public safety

FireSert is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for fire-safety research. Its mission is to enhance public safety and the competitiveness of industry through performance prediction methods, measurement technologies and the development of fire-safe materials.

The institute can trace its origins back to the 1980s, when a team from Ulster University’s School of the Built Environment established a fire-testing research centre in an industrial estate in Carrickfergus, close to the university’s Jordanstown campus. Its director, Prof Ali Nadjai, joined in 1994 from the University of Sheffield, where he had engaged in fire research. “I joined to assist in creating a state-of-the-art research facility for the future,” Nadjai says. “We brought people in from many different places and succeeded in winning a prestigious £5.7 million (€8.5 million) grant from the UK government and other funding agencies.

“The state-of-the-art infrastructure and equipment at FireSert are making a major contribution to the study of how fires develop, how structures respond to fire, how people react to fire and how to model fire and fire-related phenomena including building evacuation,” Nadjai concludes. “Students from across Europe and the world are attracted to, and benefit from, the fire-safety engineering training offered at FireSert.”