Why are buildings damaged and destroyed during a fire?

Why is it that in the event of a fire, some buildings seem to burn quicker than others?
The answer is what risk management calls ‘construction’, or rather, what material the building construction itself is made from.

Depending on the type of construction materials used in a building, more combustible constructions can pose a high inherent fire hazard at your site. By conducting a construction assessment, you can identify your property construction classification, category and rating – subsequently managing the potential risks presented by that construction.

‘There is evidence that when Aluminium Composite Sandwich panels are used to clad buildings, it can contribute to the rapid spread in the event of a fire’[i]


Combustibility of construction materials

Construction materials are rated and classified based on their combustibility by the Building Code of Australia (BCA) using Australian Standards.[ii] Complying with the BCA’s technical requirements mean that each construction material must be tested to the specifications laid out in the Australian Standards in order to meet the certified Fire Resistance Level (FRL). A material that is deemed non-combustible does not propagate fire and does not contribute to the fire load of the building.[iii]

A constructions Fire Resistance Level (FRL) can play a major part in determining how rapidly a fire will spread through a property. Materials that are fire resistant in design and contain fire resistive coatings have been known to protect property and life safety, even in some Australian bushfires.

Conversely, materials such as Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP) are classified as highly combustible materials which can propagate fire at an alarming rate. There have been several large and high-profile fires both here and overseas where ACP has been involved.  Timber is also classified as combustible, a common material used in floors, frame truss’ and purlins.

Choosing the correct construction materials for your site can assist in:

  • Reducing the risk of ignition of fire
  • Limiting fire spread in the event of a fire
  • Protecting life safety in the event of a fire
  • Protecting fire services from collapse of buildings


What can you do?

It is important to undergo accurate assessments of the construction of your site and understand how this impacts your overall Fire Resistance Level and safety. If your building construction assessment is assessed as having highly combustible materials present, there are proactive measures you can take as part of your risk management response.

To discuss your building construction assessment needs, contact Risk Partners team of risk specialists today.


[i] Association of British Insurers (May 2003). “Technical briefing: fire performance of sandwich panel systems” (PDF).

[ii] Australian Standard (year) AS1530.1 – Combustibility test for material. [Standard]

[iii] Fire Code Research Reform Program (February 2000) Project Report FCRC 00-01 – Fire Resistance and Non-Combustibility, Evaluation of Non-Combustibility Requirements. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/s100248/Downloads/FCRC-PR-00-01-Evaluation-non-combustibility-requirements.pdf