Fire-rated access panels play a significant role in building safety as essential barriers against the spread of fire and smoke within structures.

These panels are designed to integrate into walls and ceilings, enhance evacuation times, and facilitate emergency response efforts. With the UK’s strict fire safety regulations, understanding and complying with these standards is essential for architects, builders, and property managers.

This guide aims to provide a thorough overview of fire-rated access panels, including their types, benefits, and regulatory requirements. By offering insights into selection, installation, and maintenance, the goal is to empower professionals with the knowledge to make informed decisions prioritising safety and compliance in building design and construction.

Understanding Fire-Rated Access Panels

Fire-rated access panels are designed to maintain the integrity of fire-resistant barriers in buildings. They are installed in walls and ceilings to provide secure access to building utilities while preventing the spread of fire and smoke.

These panels serve two purposes: they ensure the safety of a building’s occupants by containing fires within a designated area and facilitate routine inspections and maintenance of hidden services such as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems.

There are two primary types of fire-rated access panels: metal and plasterboard. Metal panels, often made from steel or aluminium, are praised for their durability and high resistance to fire. They typically feature metal doors, intumescent seals that expand in the presence of heat to prevent the passage of smoke and flames, and sometimes fireproof gypsum to enhance their fire-resistant properties.

Plasterboard panels, on the other hand, are constructed from gypsum and are suited for environments where a seamless aesthetic is preferred. They can be painted or finished to match the surrounding surfaces, making them less visible.

Key features of fire-rated access panels include:

  • Metal Doors: Provide a sturdy barrier against fire, contributing to the panel’s overall strength and resistance to high temperatures.
  • Intumescent Seals: These seals expand when exposed to heat, sealing off gaps to prevent the spread of smoke and fire through the panel.
  • Fireproof Gypsum: Some panels incorporate layers of gypsum board, offering additional fire resistance due to its non-combustible nature.

Both types of panels are rigorously tested to ensure they meet specific fire safety standards. They often provide fire resistance for specified periods ranging from 30 minutes to over two hours.

The choice between metal and plasterboard panels depends on the project’s specific requirements, including the desired level of fire protection, aesthetic considerations, and the environment where the panel will be installed.

Complying with UK Fire Safety Regulations

Fire safety is a paramount concern in the construction and maintenance of buildings in the UK. The Building Regulations Document B, which focuses on fire safety, outlines comprehensive guidelines to ensure buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained with the safety of occupants in mind, especially in the event of a fire. Among various safety measures, fire-rated access panels play a crucial role in fulfilling these regulations, particularly in maintaining compartmentation, ensuring access for firefighting operations, and supporting the integrity of escape routes.

Facilitating Compartmentation and Fire Suppression Systems

One critical aspect of fire safety is compartmentation—dividing a building into zones to prevent the spread of fire and smoke, thereby protecting escape routes and living spaces. Fire-rated access panels contribute to compartmentation by providing secure, fire-resistant closures for wall openings and ceilings that might otherwise compromise a building’s compartmentation. These panels are designed to match the fire resistance of the surrounding structure, ensuring that the integrity of fire compartments is maintained.

In flats and other multi-storey buildings, where the risk associated with vertical fire spread is significant, the regulations underscore the importance of sprinkler systems and protected shafts for accommodating building services. Fire-rated access panels ensure that access to these sprinkler systems and service shafts does not compromise the building’s fire resistance. They allow necessary maintenance and inspections while preserving the continuous barrier against fire and smoke.

Enhancing Means of Escape

Document B’s provisions for means of escape highlight the necessity of protected stairways and escape routes resistant to smoke and fire ingress.

Fire-rated access panels contribute by ensuring that any openings for maintenance access within these crucial pathways adhere to the required fire resistance standards. Using fire-rated panels, developers and building managers can ensure that escape routes remain protected, supporting a ‘stay put’ strategy in blocks of flats and facilitating safe evacuation when necessary.

Supporting Firefighting and Rescue Operations

The regulations also detail the necessity for buildings to be accessible for firefighting and rescue operations. Fire-rated access panels are pivotal in providing secure yet accessible entry points to concealed spaces within buildings. These panels allow firefighters to access and control fire spread using built-in fire mains, hydrants, and other firefighting infrastructure without encountering delays.

Fire-rated access panels are essential in the architectural and operational strategies employed to meet the UK’s stringent fire safety regulations. By maintaining the integrity of compartmentation, protecting escape routes, and facilitating firefighting efforts, these panels embody a critical yet often overlooked component in building fire safety management.

As the UK continues to evolve its fire safety standards, the role of fire-rated access panels will undoubtedly remain central to achieving compliance and ensuring the safety of building occupants against the threat of fire.

BS Fire Safety Standards for Access Panels

Ensuring the safety of buildings in case of fire is paramount, which is why adherence to specific standards is not just about regulatory compliance but safeguarding lives and property. In the realm of fire safety, access panels play a crucial role.

They must resist fire, prevent the spread of smoke, and maintain structural integrity for a duration that allows safe evacuation and access for firefighting. Three pivotal standards guide the assessment and certification of access panels regarding fire resistance: BS 476: Part 22:1987, BS EN 1634-1:2014+A1:2018, and BS EN 1363-1:2020.

BS 476: Part 22:1987 focuses on the methods used to determine the fire resistance of non-load-bearing elements of building construction. This standard is essential for evaluating how access panels withstand extreme heating and pressure conditions. It outlines specific tests that measure the ability of these components to maintain their integrity under fire conditions. This means assessing how long they can keep a barrier against fire and smoke without compromising their structure or function for access panels.

BS EN 1634-1:2014+A1:2018 broadens the scope to include fire resistance and smoke control tests for door sets, shutter assemblies, openable windows, and related building hardware. This standard sets forth criteria for assessing the fire resistance capabilities of these elements, which is crucial for ensuring that access panels used in such applications meet the required safety levels. The tests defined here ensure that access panels and other building components resist fire and contribute to controlling smoke spread, thus protecting escape routes and critical areas from smoke inhalation risks.

BS EN 1363-1:2020 is specifically concerned with establishing the general principles for fire resistance tests. It covers door and shutter assemblies and openable windows, among others, setting the framework for conducting these tests to ensure compliance with European standards. This standard is vital for access panels as it provides the methodology for certifying fire resistance according to recognised benchmarks.

Access Panels Direct’s fire-rated access panels are a testament to the commitment to fire safety, demonstrating compliance with these rigorous standards. The company ensures that its access panels undergo stringent testing and performance evaluations, as outlined in BS 476: Part 22:1987, BS EN 1634-1:2014+A1:2018, and BS EN 1363-1:2020.

This adherence underscores the quality and reliability of their products and their dedication to offering solutions that meet the highest fire safety requirements. By ensuring their access panels are tested and certified to these standards, Access Panels Direct assures architects, builders, and property owners that their installations contribute significantly to the overall safety and integrity of buildings in the event of a fire.

Selecting the Right Fire-Rated Access Panel

When choosing a fire-rated access panel, several key factors must be taken into consideration to ensure safety, functionality, and aesthetic integration with your property. Prioritise panels with appropriate fire ratings that meet your safety requirements.

The frame type, whether Picture Frame (PF) or Beaded Frame (SBF), affects installation and finishing. Picture Frames offer a clean integration with walls or ceilings without additional finishing, whereas Beaded Frames, ideal for areas awaiting skim or tape and jointed finish, facilitate a snug fit with surrounding surfaces.

Material selection further defines durability and compliance with fire safety standards. Opt for materials that align with your structural needs and local regulations. Installation ease is critical; choose panels designed for straightforward fitting in both walls and ceilings, allowing you to cater to diverse applications.

Customisation options enhance panel functionality, offering features like 30db soundproofing for noise reduction or insulation tailoring solutions to specific requirements. Access Panel Direct’s Fire Rated Access Panels, fit for both commercial and residential setups, combine robustness, compliance, and minimal maintenance, enhancing your property’s safety and aesthetic value.

Access Panels Direct offers access panels in all the standard sizes from 150 x 150mm to 1200 x 600mm and everything in between. Bespoke made-to-measure sizes can also be tailored to your specific fire safety requirements.

Installation and Maintenance of Fire Rated Access Panels

For smooth operation, ensure latches, locks, and hinges are regularly lubricated with a light “3 in 1” oil, wiping away any excess to avoid build-up. For upkeep of painted surfaces, gently clean them with mild soap and water using a soft cloth. Stainless steel panels should also be cleaned with a soft cloth and a mild soap solution to maintain their appearance without damaging the material.

Case Study: Enhancing Safety and Elegance at Hilton Brighton Metropole

In the picturesque setting of Brighton’s iconic seafront, the Hilton Brighton Metropole stands as a testament to Victorian elegance and the lively spirit of the city, Access Panels Direct supplied 40 fire-rated access panels (600 x 600, 1-hour rating) to the Hilton Brighton Metropole; This initiative aimed to boost safety without compromising the building’s historic charm.

The installation was part of a broader effort to adhere to fire safety regulations while preserving the hotel’s aesthetic. The project demonstrates the seamless integration of modern safety features into historic structures, ensuring compliance and maintaining elegance.


Navigating the complex landscape of fire safety standards and regulations in the UK is crucial for architects, builders, and property managers dedicated to safeguarding buildings against the devastating impact of fires. The strategic selection and installation of fire-rated access panels play a pivotal role in this endeavour, offering protection and peace of mind.

These panels are not just about compliance; they embody a commitment to safety, functionality, and aesthetic preservation in building design and construction. By prioritising the integration of appropriately rated, tested, and certified fire-rated access panels, professionals can significantly enhance the safety and compliance of their buildings.

As illustrated through practical applications and stringent testing standards, ensuring the right access panel solution is chosen is essential for maintaining the integrity of fire safety barriers. This guide underscores the importance of informed decision-making in selecting, installing, and maintaining fire-rated access panels, emphasising their critical role in achieving and surpassing the rigorous demands of UK fire safety regulations.