How Long Would Our Cabinets Last In A Fire?

It's a really interesting question and one we often get asked by customers looking for a certificate or document to prove how fire resistant James Bedford cabinets are. We're not trying to avoid answering it but there are so many variables, we can't give you one simple, straight-forward response.  What we can say is that we design our cabinets in such a way as to maintain their integrity for 30 minutes in a fire, but do they?  Well, here's a short video showing what happened when we decided to test that for ourselves!   So why exactly did we decide to send one of our cabinets up in smoke? The points below will hopefully help you understand why it can be difficult to provide a certificate and why we conducted the (un-scientific) test in the video. Fire-Proof vs Flammable Cabinets  These two phrases very often get used interchangeably but they are definitely NOT the same thing, and there is some debate as to whether a cabinet can ever truly be classified as 'fire-proof'. In the UK, cabinets have a different rating based on how long they will be resistant to the interior reaching a certain temperature (usually 1,800 degrees), either 15, 30, 60 or 90 minutes. We manufacture and sell Flammable Cabinets that are designed in such a way as to maintain their integrity (i.e. not breakdown) in a fire for 30 minutes - but what does that actually mean in terms of design? The HSE states that cabinets with a 30 minute resistance rating should incorporate the following:
  • Materials used in the manufacture of the top, sides, bottoms and lids are such that they maintain integrity for 30 minutes with minimal risk of reaction to fire  (i.e. they are not made of wood for example that would accelerate the fire)
  • The joints between the sides, top and bottom should be free from openings or gaps ( a retaining lip on our doors creates a tight seal with the frame)
  • The lid/doors should be close fitting against the frame of the cupboard, so that there is a nominal overlap between the frame and lid/doors in their closed position (again the retaining lip minimises this)
  • The supports and fastening should be of a material with a melting point of greater than 750 degrees Celsius 
A cabinet that has a longer fire resistance rating might have additional features such as  thicker steel or double-skinned walls (filled with gypsum) or self-closing doors and are usually more expensive. These design features would help ensure the temperature inside the cabinet increased more slowly during a fire. What resistance rating do I need for the materials I'm storing?  The reason for using any cabinet is to create a physical barrier between hazardous/flammable substances and a fire in order to give people the time to escape and the emergency services to respond. Which cabinet you need will depend on the type and volume of materials you intend to store and how they are likely to react to temperature fluctuations and fire. Therefore, there should be someone in your organisation who has the responsibility for analysing what is going to be stored, what the risks are and choosing the most appropriate cabinet for your purposes. As a manufacturer, we can only provide you with the cabinet that someone within your team with responsibility for Health & Safety has selected, we can't recommend which one you need. There's some useful advice on the HSE website that might help you if you're still not sure - just click here. Can you give me a certificate to prove the fire rating of your cabinets?  We've spent a lot of time over the last few months talking to the fire service, fire testing organisations and fire protection companies and it's been a really interesting experience. We got several different answers, quotes for thousands of pounds to run tests on our cabinets and realised this process just raised more questions than it answered. For cabinets such as ours, because we incorporate the design features recommended by the HSE, this is sufficient to satisfy the classification that they should maintain integrity for up to 30 minutes.  However, as we spoke with a number of experts we were advised that investing in further testing would only prove that in the specific circumstances of the test, the cabinet maintains its integrity.  Depending on where the cabinet is located, what's stored in it, where the seat of the fire is and a number of other variables, the results may be different - all of which are outside of our control once we've dispatched a cabinet to a customer. So effectively, any certificate generated isn't very credible. However, in general the experts agreed that by incorporating the design elements above into every cabinet  we make this enables them to be classified with a 30 minute resistance rating. Cabinets with a longer fire resistance may be able to obtain certain certification after testing but for 30 minute ratings, incorporating the design elements above satisfies UK H&S requirements. So what does setting fire to one of our cabinets prove?  The two questions we often get asked are i) will the cabinet itself set alight in case of fire and ii) how likely is the cabinet to break down, potentially spreading the fire by falling onto something else. The way the cabinet is designed should ensure that neither of these things happen but we wanted to give you more confidence, which is why we decided to run this test. We worked with a great team of experts at Imepeller, based at Tyne & Wear Fire & Rescue Headquarters who ran a controlled experiment to safely set alight a large (88F894/88894010707) flammable cabinet in one of their units and let it burn for a minimum of 30 minutes. As you'll see the cabinet itself didn't set alight despite reaching temperatures in excess of 800 degrees and it didn't break down until the pressure of the water was applied to extinguish the fire. This exercise is likely to have created a more intense environment that a real-life situation as all 4 sides of the cabinet were exposed to flames and we fuelled the seat of the fire throughout the 30 minutes. You might ask why we didn't choose to actually store any flammable materials inside the cabinet for the test and it's definitely something we thought about. However, that might have drawn too much attention to what we actually stored rather than the principles we were trying to test. Whilst this test isn't perfect we're confident that you can see from the video that investing in a James Bedford flammable cabinet would provide a physical barrier, in an intense fire, for a period of 30 minutes allowing enough time for anyone in the vicinity to escape to safety and minimise accelerating the fire. We'd love to hear your thoughts, comments and feedback so please do get in touch in response to our trial. You can email us at sales@jbedford.co.uk or via Twitter @JamesBedfordLtd We'd like to thank the whole team at Impeller who did a fantastic job supporting us on this project - if you've got any requirements for Fire Training or advice the team would love to hear from you on 0191 444 2000. Impeller is a not-for-profit organisation working in collaboration with Tyne & Wear Fire & Rescue to protect people and their assets. Please note all content in this blog post is purely for guidance and you should ensure you have full authority from the relevant H&S representative within your business before deciding on an appropriate cabinet. James Bedford cannot be held liable for any responsibility relating to your organisation's H&S measures.