Flame retardants – at the core of fire safety

Responding to the needs  of society

A key driver behind the science of fire retardancy is changing societal demands. Peoples’ expectations of comfort, convenience, cost-effectiveness and reliability – be it in their home, their office, their car – are constantly increasing.

To address this, manufacturers are taking advantage of advances in material science. Traditional construction resources – such as wood, metal and animal hair or hides – are now being augmented or even replaced by new, synthetic materials. These new materials are increasingly based on plastics, composites, foams and fibre-based fillings.

Although such materials offer significant advantages – they are often lighter, stronger and less costly to produce – the fact that they rely on synthetics pose their own challenges for fire retardation. If not suitably treated, these materials may be more flammable than those they replace. Therefore, all materials need to meet the highest modern safety standards. 

If not suitably treated, these materials may be more flammable than those they replace

In addition to this changing environment, people routinely surround themselves with modern electronic equipment, much of it portable. They also make use of textiles and materials in ways that would not have been recognised by previous generations. These applications pose their own risk of fire; electronic devices are inevitably sources of heat generation.

These changes to how we live and what we use will continue to evolve. The ongoing green revolution – particularly the drive to reduce energy consumption – is already seeing the emergence of new materials that are strong, lightweight, and fully recyclable. These in turn need to be properly treated to ensure that they are fully flame retarded. 

This will effect increase in importance as enhancements to mobile networks roll out. The introduction of 5G has huge promise for increasing transmission speeds. However, the lower impedance and better dissipation demands much higher voltages and generates more heat; and will therefore require appropriate flame retardants to address these needs. 

The drive for greater safety is continuous; manufacturers of flame retardants therefore will work to ensure that the demands driven by societal change are fully met.

Helping deliver on safety legislation requirements

The public rightly expect the buildings that they live and work in, and the products that they use, meet minimum safety standards. These safety standards are determined by legislation, are increasingly set out at international and European level, and will include requirements for flame retardancy. This means flame retardancy science plays a vital role in meeting the demands posed by safety legislation. 

Such requirements are not static; they undergo continuous refinement as knowledge increases and improves as the science develops. Industry is constantly developing new methods and technologies to meet demands for improved flame retardant materials. Professionals in fire retardancy science proactively work to assess and address potential fire risks before they pose a danger.

In addition, formal reviews of fire-related incidents and disasters – in buildings, transport, homes or in devices – often reveal previously unforeseen risks that could be avoided, with improvements in the materials used and in the design chosen.

In order to prevent future occurrences, legislators may make increased demands on manufacturers to use materials with improved flame retardancy. These may need to:

  • Have a higher ignition temperature
  • Burn more slowly
  • Offer greater insulation against fire

Brazil has experienced several serious fire accidents in public spaces. In 2013, a fire in a nightclub in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, saw 245 casualties. The high death toll was in part due to poor compliance with fire regulations; however, it was also attributed to the use of unsuitable flammable material as soundproofing. The Brazilian Flame Retardants Association, ABICHAMA, was created to raise awareness on the importance of fire safety and help define fire safety standards