The Edge: Taking student safety a degree higher

Harriet Cooper

Global Marketing Manager

The total number of students looking to pursue higher education is growing in the UK. Last year, despite the impact of the pandemic, it was reported that the total number of students across the UK opting to pursue higher education had increased by 9%, with nearly 200,000 more people heading to university each year. In 2015, university students accounted for 3.6% of the total UK population, but this has climbed consistently year on year, with them now making up 3.8% of the UK.

This increase in demand has a direct knock-on effect for housing in and around university facilities. Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate services firm, has reported that the level of student-specific accommodation reaching the market has climbed at an average of 5.2% a year since 2015. While the private rental sector plays a large part in housing students, so too does purpose-built student accommodation.

It’s important these housing projects are fit for purpose and constructed to keep residents as safe as possible. Previous horrors such as the fire at a student block in Bolton in 2019 reinforced the lack of room for error and a very desperate need for the industry to do more to ensure these student blocks are built better.


This can be done via a number of methods, but ultimately it comes down to the materials used, and how they’re installed, as a system. One recent example of purpose-built student accommodation demonstrates how easily robust fire rated materials can be sourced and used to ensure an all-round better build.

This is The Edge, a seven-storey, timber frame accommodation building for students of John Moores University and University of Liverpool. This is a large student accommodation building on London Road, comprising of 231 en-suite rooms, two penthouse suites and an on-site gym, launderette and private resident’scourtyard. It has been constructed to meet the urgent need for student housing in the city. Here the SMARTPLY FR/FR BUILD OSB3, powered by Zeroignition, has been used as a flame retardant flooring solution.

The initial concept

The design of the building by DK Architects utilises a concrete and timber frame structure clad in facing brickwork, metal cladding with UPVC windows and aluminium curtain walling. The main contractor, Bardsley Construction, worked with timber frame engineers and fabricators, Datum, to specify 1,000 sheets of 18mm OSB3 panels, treated with non-toxic Zeroigntion Flame Retardant to be used as the floors throughout all seven storeys.

This material was selected over alternative post-treated flame retardant wood panels due to its guaranteed consistency and excellent flame retardant properties. Ross Archer, Technical Manager at Datum explains: “For the developer, fire safety and quality of build were of paramount importance as they really wanted The Edge to stand out as an exemplar of high quality student accommodation in the city. When building the timber frame part of the structure, we looked for a flame retardant flooring panel that wouldn’t be affected when the edges were cut to the specification of each storey.

SMARTPLY FR/FR BUILD OSB3 enabled us to meet this requirement so we chose to use it throughout the building and we are delighted with the result.”

Ross Archer concludes: “The product was easy to handle, delivered quality and consistency with no degradation of structural properties and, ultimately, gave us peace of mind that we were meeting fire safety and environmental requirements throughout the project.”

The ins and outs

During manufacture of these OSB3 panels, a water based, eco-friendly, flame retardant from Zeroignition is impregnated into the cellular structure of the engineered wood fibre, ensuring fire performance whilst maintaining structural integrity. Alternative post treatment flame retardant technologies can have a destructive effect on the mechanical or physical properties of the panel resulting in a tendency to crack or shatter.

This process provides an outstanding and reliable reaction to fire throughout the thickness of the panel, and unlike some post-treated panels, the same level of protection remains in the section of wood no matter how many times it is cut.

This form of nano scale fire protection in the material, delivers full EN300 OSB/3 structural properties, proven in both short and long-term strength and environmental testing.

This product has been developed in response to the STA’s (Structural Timber Association) “Design guide to separating distances during construction” for timber frame buildings above 600m2 total floor area, which makes it perfect for large accommodation buildings such as The Edge.

The research and development journey

SMARTPLY MAX FR B is a structural, moisture resistant OSB/3 panel and manufactured in accordance with EN 300. It is ideal for use in flooring, roofing and wall sheathing applications where strength, ease of handling and flame resistance are paramount, enabling end users to meet both CE-marked certified structural performance and FSC-certified environmental credibility.

Ian King, COO at Zeroignition says: “There is no doubting we need more student accommodation, and fast. But where there’s a will to construct at speed, the industry must not lose sight of what is truly important here, and that is the safety of the end users of these properties. We’ve seen for ourselves what happens when safety isn’t the first priority, and here at Zeroigniton we believe that fire safety must be built into the DNA of a building, from the outset, and this can only be done via collaboration and education within the industry.

“This is where our extensive work with MEDITE SMARTPLY to create the Euroclass B Structural OSB product comes in. There’s no doubting the road to creating a product as robust as this takes years of arduous research, development and extensive testing, but it’s a small price to pay for end projects which will ultimately ensure that buildings are cloaked in an added layer of protection for those who use them. This is a path that many more manufacturers should be looking into. Fire protection is the answer to safeguarding our future generations, and we are hugely proud of the difference our fire solutions are having on this project, and many more like it.”