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Design freedoms to follow new fire guidance

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NEW DESIGN guidance will encourage engineers to abandon restrictive fire protection rules when developing new structures, its main author said this week.

The guidance is expected to allow more consultants to develop performance-based fire engineering expertise.

Until recently the technique was confined to larger practices like Arup, Buro Happold and Faber Maunsell, which had invested heavily in developing their own in-house software and design skills.

Drafting of the Institution of Structural Engineers' forthcoming Advanced fire engineering of structures is now in its final phase and publication is expected in the autumn.

It will enable engineers to use a performance basedapproach to structural design, rather than relying on prescriptive codes.

'Traditionally, structural gineers didn't venture into fire design, relying instead on simple prescriptive rules and guidance, ' said Manchester University civil engineering professor Colin Bailey, who is consultant to the task group and is responsible for the final draft.

These produced safe buildings, but not necessarily economic ones, and innovation was stifled.

'Structural fire engineering uses a performance-based approach, which can yield safer as well as more economical buildings.' It is hoped that increasing numbers of UK structural engineers will adopt the fire engineering approach as the benefi become obvious, especially to clients.

With specialised fire engineering software packages and training now available, use of the technique is bound to spread, said Bailey.

Key elements of the new guidance documents will be a rationalised approach to design plus a detailed checklist to be used by building control engineers to evaluate fire engineering proposals. 'It's not just about computers, ' Bailey added.

The new guidance follows earlier, simpler guidance given by IStructE in its Introduction to fire engineering of structures, published in 2003.

'This goes well beyond Eurocodes, and is almost certainly the most advanced fire engineering guide in the world, ' said Buro Happold partner Mick Green.

'We believe that fire engineering can have a major impact on safety during construction and on programme times. And it can transform the viability of an extreme architectural situation.' Building control officers and representatives of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) were part of the drafting task group.

It is expected that the IStructE guide will be adopted by the ODPM as an approved document under the Building Regulations.

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