Lack of knowledge amongst architects

Harriet Cooper

Study from Zeroignition finds architects’ fire protection knowledge lacking

March 2019

  • Two years after Grenfell 92% of UK architects unable to define key building fire protection terms
  • A third of architects say their current employer doesn’t spend enough on fire protection training
  • Overall, architects believe they are lacking in fully comprehensive fire protection training

Zeroignition, the fire retardant technology firm, today announced findings from its latest study of architects and specifiers. Architects were asked about their understanding of four common terms relating to buildings and fire. Only 8% were able to correctly define these four basic fire protection terms.

The terms were active fire protection (systems which protect structures and people including sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, smoke alarms), passive fire protection (whereby the spread of fire is slowed or contained through the use of fire-resistant walls, floors and doors, amongst others), fire resistance (a set of products that prevent fire spreading to other parts of the structure) and reaction to fire (products designed to slow the growth of fire in its early stages to aid escape).

While one in three architects (35%) were unable to correctly define the concept of active fire protection, when asked about fire protection options they’d considered in projects, smoke alarms were named by 38% and sprinklers by 33%.

Just over half (52%) of all architects couldn’t give an accurate definition of passive fire protection, where fire protection is ‘built in’. However, 54% did cite fire doors as a consideration, which is part of the passive approach. Passive technologies such as flame retardant treated materials e.g. firewall were considered by over a quarter (29%), plasterboard by 21% and plywood/OSB by 8%.

58% of architects were unable to explain what ‘reaction to fire’ protection is and almost three quarters (71%) were unable to define fire resistance.

Description Examples Able to use/describe term correctly Unable to use/define term correctly
Active fire protection Systems requiring human/computer-based action or motion to trigger a response protecting structures and people Sprinklers, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, or the attendance of the fire service 65% 35%
Passive fire protection This contains fires or slows the spread through use of fire-resistant walls, floors, and doors (amongst other examples). Protection is designed-in Fire doors, compartmentation, fire retardant treated materials 52% 48%


Reaction to fire Describes the fire protection methods to help occupants of a space, like a hotel room, office or room in a home to escape from the fire (it’s generally related to the early stages of a fire) Products that aid evacuation by slowing the growth of the fire for example fire- rated timber, FR OSB, etc 42% 58%
Fire resistance Products and technologies that prevent fire spreading to other parts of the structure Fire doors and firewalls 29% 71%


None of the architects interviewed said they’d had comprehensive fire protection training, most had some training and 8% say they’ve never had fire protection training.

Ian King, chief operating officer, Zeroignition, says, ‘Architects are responsible for designing safe buildings. There’s clearly a lack of understanding as to the fire basics which is worrying to say the least. Architects, their employers and the professional bodies need to invest in ensuring this knowledge is bedded in.’

Architects and interior design firm gpad london has looked at fire safety, commenting on their procedures Jeremy Wiggins, director from the firm says, ‘Fire kills. It’s part of our duty to make sure we design safe buildings. We had a look at the RIBA fire safety consultation and tweaked our processes. We make it part of our design thinking from day one, involving end users and fire consultants as soon as practical. Beyond this we make sure that each project has a named person for fire safety responsibility.

‘We won’t take chances on this, it’s easy for knowledge to become half remembered if you don’t call on it every day and so we refer to checklists when designing as well as running ongoing CPD sessions focusing on it and new innovations.’



The research was conducted under Market Research Society guidelines by 2Europe. 226 architects, commercial directors and specifiers were interviewed in UK, Germany and France. The interviews lasted 25 minutes and were conducted by telephone.

UK sample size was 76.

About Zeroignition

Zeroignition (Zi) exists to make fire related death and destruction a thing of the past.

It is an ingredient technology company with an ambitious purpose, to promote the adoption and integration of its Zi Solution, with any industry vulnerable to the catastrophic effects of fire.

The Zi Solution is a revolutionary fire retardant technology. Water-based and completely non-toxic, the solution transforms materials so they don’t spread fire.

Zi Solution is impregnated into the fibre of products during manufacturing. Permanently integrated ‘inside’ the material itself Zi Solution protects the materials during and post-construction – delivering consistent fire protection.