China’s economy has enjoyed fast growth over the past decades, which attracts more and more multinational companies to make significant investments within the country. While these companies establish themselves in this emerging market, they also face many natural and manmade disasters that may affect their business. The building codes and standards they encounter could have an adverse effect on their risk profile.
To mitigate the risk of fire, automatic fire sprinkler systems are the most effective and reliable means of fire protection. The Ministry of Public Security Fire Bureau in China, responsible for the country’s fire safety as well as the fire regulations, recognizes the benefit of automatic fire sprinklers. The national fire code in China is generally quite strict, requiring automatic fire sprinklers, especially for buildings where a lot of people gather, like public buildings, office buildings, shopping malls and airports. But for industrial buildings, manufacturing facilities and warehouses, the code is still developing given the changes in industry, and many industrial buildings and warehouses are not required to have sprinklers. This gap in the code can leave facilities of international developments susceptible to large industrial and warehouse fires.
To help close the gap, FM Global started a multi-year research project with one of China’s leading fire research institutes – Tianjin Fire Research Institute (TFRI). The project focused on evaluating the fire risk in warehouses with lower levels of combustible loading.
In China, warehouses are classified into five categories, i.e., Class A/B/C/D/E. Class D and E are the warehouses storing hard to combustible and non-combustible materials (according to Chinese National Standard GB8624 Classification for Burning Behavior of Building Materials and Products). Currently, in the national code, Class D and E warehouses are not required to be protected by automatic fire sprinklers. The reason behind this is the belief that such warehouses don’t contain enough combustible materials, so there is no fire hazard.
However, FM Global’s own research has long shown that facilities that store what are considered hard to combustible or non-combustible materials can and do experience catastrophic fire losses. To help TFRI, as well as the regulatory authority in China, understand the fire risk associated with such warehouses, FM Global initiated the project in 2015. The project was conducted at TFRI’s research facility and lasted for three years.
Firstly, a survey was conducted at 18 Class D and E warehouses in China, including FM Global client facilities (multi-national companies) as well as indigenous Chinese plants. Out of the 18 warehouses, 17 indicated the presence of the combustible packaging. The combustible material counted up to 25% by weight or 50% by volume of otherwise hard to combustible or non-combustible contents.
Full scale fire tests were then conducted at TFRI’s testing lab. The tests were free burn fires in a 4 x 2 x 2 rack, palletized, or solid-pile storage array with standard commodity, consisting of corrugated cardboard cartons (or polypropylene plastic boxes) containing a sheet metal liner. The mass ratio of the combustible packaging to the metal liner was controlled to less than 25% which is within the limit for code requirement for Class E warehouses.
Before the first test, current perception of fire hazard in Class E warehouses in China would anticipate that the fire would be very small with a slow growth rate. However, very fast fire growth and large heat release rates were measured for the rack storage test, far exceeding the expectations and illustrating a greater fire hazard for such warehouses than currently assumed in the code.
Series of tests were conducted to evaluate the effect of ambient humidity, moisture content, properties of packaging material, weight of packaging, and storage arrangement on the fire performance. It is concluded that:
- With the same amount of combustible loading, the fire risk of rack storage will be much higher than that of the solid-piled or palletized storage arrangements.
- The main factors that will affect the fire risk of Class D and E warehouses are the actual mass value of external packaging and the existence of wood pallets.
- When using a plastic container as external packaging material, no matter the storage configuration, i.e., solid-piled, palletized, or rack storage, automatic sprinkler protection should be provided.
- When using a cardboard carton as external packaging material with wood pallets, automatic sprinkler protection should be provided for all storage configurations.
- When using a cardboard carton as external packaging material without wood pallets, the actual mass value of the combustible packaging in unit volume should be calculated. If the actual combustible mass value of the packaging for each standard pallet load volume (1 x 1 x 1 m3) exceeds 4.7kg, automatic sprinkler protection should be provided. If the actual combustible mass value of the packaging for each standard pallet load volume is less than 4.7kg, then automatic sprinkler protection may not be required.
The research also validated FM Global’s well established data on warehouses with lower levels of combustible loading, which are equivalent to Class 1 and Class 2 commodities based on FM Global Property Loss Prevention Data Sheets 8-1, Commodity Classification and 8-9, Storage of Class 1, 2, 3, 4 and Plastic Commodities.
FM Global’s partnership with TFRI helped the regulatory authority in China understand the fire risk of warehouses that have lower levels of combustible loading. FM Global’s International Codes and Standards team is working proactively with TFRI to pursue regulation change and establish sound requirements in automatic sprinkler protection for such warehouses in the next version of China’s building fire code. With this we are helping to make business more resilient in China.
A unique approach to ‘insurance’
You might assume the accompanying article comes from a governmental codes and standards organization. In fact, it comes from one of the world’s largest commercial property insurers, FM Global.
Although insurance is widely viewed as a financial backstop for unexpected disruptions, FM Global views its mission differently – as preventing loss in the first place. Loss prevention keeps clients in business, which protects their revenue, market share, shareholder value and reputation – things insurance can’t cover completely.
Based in the United States, with offices throughout Asia and around the world, FM Global executes this mission in several ways.
First, it practices a unique engineering approach. Its 1,800 loss prevention engineers closely advise clients on specific ways to achieve resilience. The company’s 1,600-acre (648 ha) FM Global Research Campus enables staff scientists to simulate hazards like five-alarm fires and category five hurricanes.
As a mutual company, FM Global is committed to educating clients and the public on the importance of resilience. For example, last year the company broke ground on an S$80-million Loss Prevention Training and Operations Center in Singapore. When it opens in January 2019, the center will offer hands-on education to clients, partners, industry and government officials in Asia.
FM Global’s International Codes and Standards (IC&S) Group, which produced the accompanying article, is an integral part of the company’s resilience mission. IC&S views its job as influencing and elevating standards wherever necessary to help policyholders maintain a strong risk profile.
Resilience, research, engineering, hazard simulations, codes and standards. They’re not what you’d expect from an insurance company. But when combined with mutual ownership, responsive claims, supportive client partnerships, and global consistency, it’s why clients choose the company.
For more information, go to www.fmglobal.com
Top image: Figure 2 Fire tests demonstrating fire risk in Class E warehouses.