NEWS

FSEU Press Release – Defining moment in Europe as European Parliament holds first debate on Fire Safety in buildings

Sep 13, 2017 | News, Press Release

PRESS RELEASE

Strasbourg, 13 September 2017
Members of the European Parliament will debate fire safety for the first time today in response to growing concerns about the suitability of Europe’s fire safety regulations.

The European Commission and the Council are expected to respond to questions and give statements at this public debate.

As the elected representatives of European citizens, it is the fundamental duty of Members of the European Parliament to ensure that Europeans are safe in their homes. Several Members of the European Parliament are expected to take the floor to question the European Commission on its lack of progress to date and to ask for concrete actions in areas such as the smoke toxicity of construction products, the harmonised testing regime for building facades and an EU level initiative to promote fire safety.

Juliette Albiac, Managing Director of Fire Safe Europe, has welcomed the debate but says the European Commission now needs to take concrete steps. “Fire Safe Europe has been calling on the European Commission to take action on fire safety in buildings since 2011. Unfortunately, a European response is very often propelled by a major incident or a global accord, so despite having many examples of recent fires from across Europe, we have struggled to gain significant traction with this Commission. Until now. We hope that Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska will now take on board the concerns of Members of the European Parliament. We will continue to work with MEPs until we achieve our objectives of the establishment of an EU fire safety strategy, testing and labelling of smoke toxicity of construction products, and a robust testing method for building facades that reflects real-life fire conditions.”

Fires in buildings are now bigger, unpredictable and more dangerous than ever before. Many of the current laws at the European and national level do not adequately protect European citizens. Smoke is the biggest killer in fires: 41% of fire victims are killed by gas, smoke and toxic fumes alone, and another 20% are killed by a combination of smoke and burns. It is time for coordinated action to tackle the issue of fire safety in buildings at EU level. ENDS

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Details of European Parliament plenary debate at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary

Campaign information:
Twitter
Fire Safe Europe Website
Watch the debate at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary/video?date=13-09-2017

The debate is scheduled in the afternoon session starting at 3pm.

Agenda of the European Parliament plenary at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=AGENDA&reference=20170913&secondRef=SIT&language=EN

Watch the debate at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=AGENDA&reference=20170913&secondRef=SIT&language=EN</a>

About Fire Safe Europe
Fire Safe Europe (FSEU) was founded in 2011 as a broad and unique alliance of fire experts, fire fighters, international companies and European associations. Fires in buildings are now bigger, unpredictable and more dangerous than ever before. Together with our partners, we are campaigning for the European Parliament to show political leadership and demand action at European level to improve fire safety in Europe’s buildings. 

There are 3 fire safety issues where the EU can take immediate action:

  1. Create harmonised classification of the smoke toxicity of construction products

The toxicity of smoke from construction products is not tested in Europe, even though smoke is the biggest killer in fires: 41% of fire victims are killed by gas, smoke and toxic fumes alone, and another 20% are killed by a combination of smoke and burns.[1]

Yet, under the existing requirements for testing and labelling construction products for their fire performance, there is no requirement to test for the toxicity of smoke. Opacity yes, toxicity no. There has to be a stronger focus on the role of smoke in fires. It is vital that people have all the information about the performance of products at hand so they can make informed decisions. Moreover, the draft final report of a study on smoke toxicity by the British building research institute (BRE) delegated by the European Commission states that “there is very little evidence… to reliably show that victims of building fire are due to the inhalation of toxic gases from construction products.” The final study report which was due in June this year has been delayed. Surely recent fires are evidence to the contrary?

ISO (the International standards organization) has developed both test and calculation methods for smoke toxicity so the methodology is now available to tackle this issue. New requirements to test the toxic smoke produced by construction products in a fire and then labelling those products with their results can be introduced by the European Commission under the existing Construction Products Regulation. There are no longer any excuses for ignoring smoke toxicity in fires in EU regulations. The Commission must be challenged. There are questions to be asked:

How can the smoke study credibly claim that there is no data showing that the inhalation of toxic gases causes fire deaths?
The London Grenfell fire reported cases of cyanide poisoning. Has the European Commission requested the UK government for evidence of this?
Why has the smoke study been delayed? When will it be published?
What are the options for regulating smoke? Could this be done through a delegated act under the construction product regulation?
Which are the reasons why the EU is reluctant to act on the toxicity of smoke from construction products? Aren’t people entitled to know the safety of products in their homes?
2. Urgently change the approach to building façade testing by mandating CEN to develop one large scale fire safety tests for building facades

Buildings are changing: innovation has brought new materials and new methods of construction. But regulations are not keeping up.

The European Commission’s DG GROW has ordered a study to develop a common European approach to assess the fire performance of buildings facades. It is imperative that the Commission get these tests right to ensure façade systems are tested at the appropriate scale and to real-life conditions so we really understand how they will perform in the event of a fire. For facades, the most secure way to demonstrate performance is through a large-scale test.

The European Commission is currently developing a new testing requirement outside the usual standard procedure. This is steering towards an approach that will not guarantee an adequate level of fire safety. They are proposing 2 tests: one small based on a German model, one largely based on the testing used in the UK. Member States will be allowed to choose which test to use. The UK test, whilst large scale, has its limitations: it does not include windows, which can enable the fire to re-enter the building at every floor, spreading the fire to all levels, and it does not include measurements of smoke development and smoke toxicity.

The European Commission should mandate CEN to develop one harmonised façade test that prioritises the examination of the large-scale reality of many building fires. The following questions arise:

Will the Commission mandate CEN to develop one large scale facades test?
How can we justify having a European approach for assessing the fire performance of facades which is based on two national tests, neither of which guarantees a sufficient level of fire safety? How is this better regulation?
Won’t the two-test approach create misleading labels if both tests can give the same labels?
Is creating a two-test approach that is not harmonized and does not guarantee a sufficient level of fire safety what the Commission calls better regulation?
3. Address fire safety holistically at the EU level by developing a fire safety strategy

Many EU policies impact fire safety. The European Commission is working, mostly in an indirect and uncoordinated manner, on a number of issues that could have an adverse effect on the fire safety of buildings and occupants, yet fire safety is rarely a consideration when these policies are developed. In fact, almost a third of the Directorates-General have scattered legislation or responsibilities that affect fire safety.

The European Commission should develop a coordinated approach for fire safety in the EU, by developing a fire safety strategy that would enable Member States to exchange data and best practices, and to set up a vision for fire safety in the EU.

What is the Commission planning to do to tackle fire safety?
The Commission has acted in the past on safety issues subject to subsidiarity, such as Road Safety and achieved excellent results. Why is fire safety different?
Policies such as the EPBD can have a tremendous impact on fire safety. Will the European Commission ensure that sustainable buildings of the future are also resilient to fire by including fire safety?
Member States collect data that is not comparable, because it does not use the same definitions. Furthermore, there is little communication to exchange best practices and data, which countries would benefit from. Can the European Commission work on collecting fire data and sharing best practices to help design better regulation?

[1] DCLG; Fire Statistics: Great Britain April 2013 to March 2014. Cause of death (Annex table 7, Figure 1.7)