During the past 12 months we have carried out many inspections of onsite and offsite applied intumescent coatings; most being 60 minutes protection and a small amount of 90 minutes protection.
Of the numerous sites we have inspected, only a small number of sites were offsite applied with the remainder being onsite. The sites in question range from approx. 500 tonnes to more than 2500 tonnes. Our findings have been alarming to say the least. As per ASFP technical guidance document 11, we initially carry out a 10% random selection inspection to confirm the required dry film thickness applied meets the loading schedule requirement for the respective beam or column section size. If, during the inspection we ‘identify a trend of unnacceptable thickness’, again as per ASFP guidelines we carry out a full and detailed survey. In all cases of onsite applied Intumescent we were required to carry out a more detailed inspection; why? In our opinion, the issue lies with contractor “self-certification”.
What is self-certification? The contractor who applied the intumescent product certifies that the fire protection is ‘fit for purpose’. In all the projects we inspected these had already been ‘passed’ by the applying contractor, is it a coincidence that all of the offsite fire protection contractors work we have inspected, significant rework was required? In several instances the applied coating had also been inspected by the intumescent manufacturer and again passed as ‘fit for purpose’ when clearly it was not.
The problem here is two-fold; when such a safety critical element is required, the contractor should not be permitted to certify his own work nor the intumescent manufacturer who has an obvious ‘commercial bias’ with the contractor to pass his work thereby guaranteeing his next sale. A cynical view maybe but a professionally calibrated dry film thickness meter does not lie. Inspection records were almost non-existent. Coatings such as these require certain application parameters to be met; again, records detailing climatic conditions at time of coating were, in most cases, not available or generated in the first instance. It is unfortunate that intumescents are visibly identical to normal paint and so it is crucially important that records of the installation are maintained.
Compare this to the offsite applied intumescent sites, where noticeable differences are obvious. In house inspection teams mean coatings were to the required dry film thickness and inspection records were fully available by load and section ID. Each load being traceable to product batches and application dates and times. All cases of offsite applied intumescent passed the 10% inspection with some comments regarding erection or mechanical damage repairs being made. Add to this the benefits of one less line in the construction phase of the project plan and offsite applied intumescent which, historically has been more expensive, suddenly looks very attractive.
Protecting Yourself and your Investment
Whilst our experience of onsite applied coating isn’t a good one, we aren’t saying that all Contractors who apply intumescent fire protection offer a poor service. We have experience of some who cannot compete or even buy the material for some contracts because another contractor has tendered such a low price.
So, the problem isn’t just a contractor issue; Main Contractors have a responsibility to not always accept the lowest price and if there is a price significantly lower than the others; is there a reason? Protecting your asset using the lowest bidder may make financial sense at the time, however, our experience shows that this is often not the case when extensive re-work is required, which inevitably impacts the overall plan.