passive fire protection - the unseen life saver. The basics explained.

What is passive fire protection?

Passive fire protection relates to the layout and infrastructure of your site or building. It covers building design, the use of fire resistant construction materials, compartmentalisation, fire walls and doors, signage, emergency lighting and evacuation plan. These are discussed in more detailed below.

The aim of passive fire protection is to provide constant assurance that if a fire did break out it would be quickly contained and extinguished, everyone inside would be evacuated smoothly and damage would be kept to a minimum.

Why are passive systems different to active systems?

Put very simply, passive fire protection is about the prevention of fire in a workplace, the behaviour and spread of that fire, and the effectiveness of your emergency plan, whereas active fire protection relates to the detection of fire.

Active systems can be either automatic or manual. For example, sprinklers, fire alarm systems, fire suppression systems, smoke alarms and manually operated fire extinguishers.

To see some more examples of the mechanical marvels that can help you to protect and detect when it comes to workplace fires, have a look at our blog post on active fire protection systems.

Where are fires most likely to break out?

According to fire safety expert Adrian Lee (a man who has trained fire fighters), “fire outbreaks most commonly occur in:

  • decorations;
  • furnishings;
  • finished goods;
  • raw materials;
  • chemicals;
  • plant and machinery;
  • electrical equipment, and;
  • through the lining materials of the building construction.”

“To prevent a fire from spreading,” Adrian says, “all passages, lobbies, corridors and stairwells required as means of escape should remain clear of combustible material.”

This hopefully gives you some examples of hazards you need to pay particular attention to. these would be identified in your fire risk assessment.

How does passive fire protection save lives?

Passive fire protection can be broken down into several areas of management.

People and education

By making sure your training provisions are adequate you can be confident that all equipment is maintained and checked, and that all of your processes are created and reviewed by competent people. These processes, procedures, plans and active safety checks form the foundation of your fire safety management system.


All fire resistant barriers in your building, e.g. walls, partitions, ceilings, floors need to be adequate to prevent the spread of fire. They should be sufficient to contain any fire in one area for as long as possible so that it can be more effectively extinguished. These barriers should be made of fire resistant materials, such as concrete, brick, etc. Flammable materials and damage to walls, doors and seals add to the risk level of an area and reduce the effectiveness of compartmentation.


Considerations should be taken for the structural safety of a building in the event of a fire. As seen in the Glasgow fire example above, much of the historical building is now structurally unsound. By using fire-proofing materials you can reduce structural damage caused by a fire.


As mentioned above, fire-proof or fire-resistant materials should be used where possible and flammable materials should be reduced and controlled or substituted. If damage is caused to fire proof barriers, such as drilling into a partition wall for maintenance work, gaps can often be left unsealed and undetected.

In this instance compartmentation is less effective as smoke and fire can get through gaps, for example into membrane gaps (especially when filled with insulation or wiring) and fire can easily spread unnoticed throughout a building inside its walls. Chilling, I know. So take caution when maintenance work has been undertaken. Always inspect these areas afterwards and remember to review your fire risk assessment after any significant changes.


Wall openings where a fire could spread should be covered with fire doors or windows to maintain compartmentation.  Fire doors and windows retain their fire proofing qualities because of the combined glazing, sealings, and materials. If any of this is damaged the fire door may lose its ability to hold back a fire.

What now?

If you feel that your passive fire protection measures could do with a check, undertaking a competent fire risk assessment is a good start to gauge the effectiveness of your current systems.

If you have any queries about fire safety, contact our family run team of consultants for some friendly advice and support.