The safe bet for decking

William Hogg of Ecodek discusses the options for blending safety standards and sustainability with striking design when it comes to aluminium decking

The specification of non-combustible building materials in the design of high-rise buildings has never been such a prevalent issue for architects, with balconies, roof terraces and walkway constructions demanding fire rated profiles to qualify as compliant.

Following the Hackitt Review, it has become a legal requirement for any material used in the construction or refurbishment of high rise building envelopes 18 metres or above to be non-combustible fire rated.

As a result, a new British Standard was developed – BS 8579:2020 – with the aim of setting a benchmark for quality and functionality in the design of balconies and terraces.

A panel of experts, including architects, balcony manufacturers and structural engineers, as well as fire safety, drainage, acoustic and accessibility specialists drafted the standard; which in turn has led to a need for appropriate materials to be sourced by architects and applied to relevant development projects.

The new directives add to an already increasing requirement for environmentally viable building materials to fit specification criteria, and for designers and suppliers alike to think in terms of safety alongside sustainability.

With increased demand within the construction industry for terrace balcony and walkway systems to be manufactured from non-combustible materials, safety and practicality remain paramount priorities, so by manufacturing decking systems using premium quality recycled aluminium, neither style, nor sustainability need to be compromised.

Creating an impact with safer standards
Limiting the amount of time installers must work at height is another prevalent issue, and an area where decking solutions designed as complete systems – not simply individual boards – help in raising safety standards.

When decking profiles can be prepared for use on or off site, construction teams can help to reduce onsite and off-ground labour timescales.

This principle can be applied to balconies made using aluminium decking systems, as structures can be prefabricated in safe working environments prior to site delivery and installation. Once constructed, the balconies can be craned into position and appropriately fixed into place using the individual decking system’s specific installation processes and mechanisms.

Safe steps to a stylish solution
A decking’s non-combustible properties are essential, however when specifying, slip hazard potential must be seriously considered.

Aesthetically, board profiles should have the capacity to offer a sleek and modern aesthetic together with architectural interest, however it’s vital that a deck’s design makes it safe to walk on.

In making architectural specifications, it’s important to choose a design profile that also reduces the risk of slipping. Certain decorative grip coatings can dramatically assist with this and limit slip potential in both wet and dry conditions, with suitable options available for domestic and commercial purposes.

The right decorative coatings used in aluminium decking production are capable of increasing safety performance. For example, boards coated and certified as Qualicoat 1 (Seaside grade) deliver upon an internationally recognised standard that’s rigorously sampled and tested for appearance, consistency adhesion, and weather and pollutant reactions. Standards of this level can cover more than twenty different tests depending on the material, with most assessments conducted under ISO or EN regulations.

A sustainable status
It’s critical that decking systems installed nowadays perform reliably in terms of use, safety and durability. However, a building material’s sustainability credentials must also be considered, as manufacturers of non-combustible solutions continue to recognise a wider remit in terms of responsibility.

William Hogg is managing director of Ecodek – part of the Epwin Group Plc