Fire performance cable testing

Essential to any integrated building management system is a fully functioning business continuity plan. Safety engineering is critical in emergency systems design, forming a central part of any infrastructure.

Fire rated cables and components are fundamental to the successful, reliable and continued operation of your systems in the event of a fire.

Cable fire performance can be assessed for either:

  • Fire resistance, or
  • Fire reaction

Both types of testing offer distinct indictors of performance in a fire scenario. The first is focused on the cable’s ability to resist fire and remain operable, often for a defined period of time, enabling the safe evacuation of occupants.

The second is focused on the cables’ reaction characteristics when exposed directly to a flame. Measurement of flame spread, flaming droplets, which can activate secondary fires, acid gas and smoke emissions, which may impair occupants, are key to the classification of fire performance.

Reaction to fire testing is defined by the Construction Products Regulation and compliance or classification is denoted by the CE or UKCA marking scale, with classification running from Aca to Fca.

Fire performance cable challenges

1. Fire safety engineering systems

Asset protection is critical in a fire scenario. Cabling infrastructures work to connect all essential components so that power, data or information can be energised, transmitted or simply recorded.

In all modern buildings, including all those of an industrial, commercial or domestic nature, a whole host of cable products and types will be used to connect or operate a range of applications.

Some applications pose higher safety risks than others, and it is with this in mind that fire safety engineered systems are implemented to safeguard against or minimise impact risk.

Fire safety systems include:

  • Automatic sensors
  • Smoke, temperature or flame detectors
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Bells or alarms
  • Strobe or emergency lighting
  • CCTV
  • Data storage or control panels
  • Terminals, switches, junction boxes, clips or ties

Engineer inspecting fire safety engineering systems

Integrated systems incorporating all of these elements can be complex, and each component often requires their own cabling system, often within a wider cabling system. Networks may include some isolated circuits to enable quicker, safer and easier to identify, or assessment of higher risk systems.

Understanding fire performance, of the cabling types utilised, can be gained via independent cable testing and certification. Cable fire testing can be standalone or, as outlined below form part of a comprehensive approval to evidence compliance to industry recognised standards, typical testing includes:

  • Electrical testing of shielded or unshielded cables, for use in fire alarms
  • Mechanical assessment of wire configurations and their sheathing material choices, for security cables or wires, compatibility for automatic sensor applications
  • Constructional or dimensional assessments, security wires often run lower voltages removing the need for larger cable diameters
  • Aging and temperature
  • Fire testing for circuit integrity for defined durations, shock, impact and water
  • Fire reaction testing of spread, droplets, gas and smoke

2. Achieving optimal performance

Standards compliance is essential when it comes to fire performance and fire safety. If the wrong type of cable is used in a fire critical application, risk of system faults or failure to operate in an emergency could be devastating.

  • Fire resistance cables – performance is designed to operate systems which enable safe evacuation, which can be actioned with no delay
  • Enhanced fire resistance cables - used to power continued communications, performance is required before, during and after the event of a fire, where evacuations may be delayed, buildings may be split into zones or cables run through critical signal paths
  • Fire reaction classified cables – evidence performance levels when subjected to fire conditions

A combination of cable types should be used to match the importance of your end application. Do they continue to power or operate systems, or should they prevent the spread or likelihood of igniting secondary fires?

fire resistance cabling for fire alarm applications

3. Fire regulation compliance

Following a number of serious fire accidents in times gone by, the regulation and higher compliance of fire performance and safety has become a key priority for the cable industry and beyond.

Public, systems’ and operator safety is paramount.

Wiring regulations the world over, including the UK’s BS 7671, continue to amend and update regulation to incorporate and implement essential fire safety changes.

Some of the latest additions include:

  • Mandatory fire classification of cables, for CPR compliance denoted via a UKCA or CE marking and classification, to assess flaming cables do not worsen conditions
  • Fixed fire resistance cables and components in escape routes, designed to improve fire safety and recognise the risks or dangers of collapsing cables or supports
  • Some countries are mandating specific classifications for specific applications also, other implementing mirrored nationalised standards
  • Integrated building management systems, ensuring adjacent components or systems to the cabling infrastructure are compatible

electrical wire fire in flexible metal conduit

An in-depth knowledge of fire performance requirements needed for your operations is only the start.

Complete cable assessment through an on-going testing and certification approval programme gives you the confident to be sure that your cables will not only function as intended, but will also deliver on those all important fire performance criteria.

Get your copy of the Fire & CPR / UKCA cable testing certification guide today

Download guide

Contact the team of experts to discuss further.