When you think of lab safety, the first things that may come to mind are personal protective equipment, chemical containment, or safety protocols. But what about the safety of the lab building itself? Modern buildings need to be built to several strict safety standards, ranging from fire safety to natural disaster resistance, and the materials and structures must be tested and certified to industry standards. This is where safety testing laboratories like Intertek York come in.
From evaluating how well buildings can withstand natural disasters to checking how long windows and doors can hold up to various threats, Intertek York has the facilities to assess a wide range of safety concerns. With labs in more than 100 countries, Intertek serves a wide variety of industries. Their Building and Construction division has grown significantly over the past decade, and the York, PA lab (previously Architectural Testing Inc.) is one of their more recent acquisitions, having joined the company in 2013. The existing facilities at the York lab added to Intertek’s fenestration, thermal, and acoustic testing capabilities, which they have since expanded to incorporate a larger number of safety testing methods.
Clients can make use of the York lab facilities to test products ranging from small material samples to full building mock-ups.
Serving building product manufacturers all over the world, Intertek York provides assurance testing, inspections, and certifications to meet a variety of regulatory and code requirements, such as the International Building Code and North American Fenestration Standard. Clients can make use of the York lab facilities to test products ranging from small material samples to full building mock-ups. As one of 17 North American Intertek labs, the York lab has several safety testing domains that overlap with other labs, but there are a few unique services they provide.
Water, wind, and fire hazards
Environmental hazards, both natural and manmade, are one of the main areas of focus for Intertek’s York lab. Hurricane safety testing was not standard prior to 1990’s Hurricane Andrew, but it is now one of the most popular services offered by the York lab. The unique combination of wind, water, and airborne debris created by a hurricane poses a distinct set of challenges for buildings. Intertek York offers two types of tests that address this specific category of hazard: dynamic water testing and windborne debris testing.
While many building materials have established water resistance ratings, dynamic water testing takes things a step further by assessing how materials and structures fare in simulated storm conditions. Tom Lawlor, project testing manager at York, explains that the storm conditions are created by continuously spraying water onto the exterior of the structure being tested while also using a four-meter propeller powered by a large aircraft engine to produce the effect of wind-driven rain. With the additional ability to set the test chamber to specific cyclic and static air pressures, the dynamic water testing allows the lab to determine if there are any sections of the structure that could cause problems in stormy weather. “The dynamic test will force water into/onto these areas, even holding water in specific locations due to the turbulent characteristics of the enclosure design,” adds Lawlor.
Windborne debris is another safety issue present in storms with high winds. The Intertek York lab simulates the possibility of debris impact damage using their Missile Impact Cannon. This compressed air cannon fires 8-foot lengths of 2x4 wood at up to 34 miles per hour into the building product being tested, be it a window, wall, door, or structural mock-up. Depending on what type of standard the client needs to meet, the products can either be graded on a pass/fail system, or they can be given a rating based on how well they hold up. Like the dynamic water testing, this type of testing is especially popular with building product manufacturers who are selling their products in hurricane prone areas.
Intertek York also offers a wide range of fire testing services to help customers verify that their building products or systems meet designated fire safety requirements. In addition to basic fire resistance and flammability testing, the lab can test for a number of more specific fire-related qualities in materials and structures. One specific test assesses how flames spread from the propagation source on different materials, including the speed at which they spread and the distance or depth of material that gets burned. This type of testing can be especially useful for walls or other structures that are made of multiple layers of materials, as it can help identify if the specific components, such as internal insulation or external cladding, still meet required safety standards in combination. Testing can also be done to establish how long structures maintain compartmentalization and to see how much smoke or heat is given off during burning. As fire safety is a universal concern, such testing is always in demand.
External threats to buildings
The other key area of safety assessments performed by the Intertek York lab is threat resistance testing. Their Security Research Center (SRC) is one of only five labs in the US that is approved by the Department of State for forced entry and ballistics resistance testing. “Generally, the customers for these tests are producing products for government buildings or military bases,” explains Travis Hoover, Intertek’s SRC program manager. “They are also utilized by clients selling products to the Department of State for embassies, schools/universities, banks, and courthouses.”
One of the most unique types of safety testing offered by Intertek York comes in the form of their pneumatic shock tube. This large tube is used to test how different building materials and products hold up to shock waves, like those that would be made by explosions. But how exactly does this work? Hoover describes the process:
“Using compressed air, the blast tube produces a shock wave that is subjected on the specimen, which is secured downstream within the tube. The test is conducted at a specific blast pressure and impulse duration, and then based on the performance of the product a blast rating is determined.”
This pneumatic shock tube test is not a type of test that is widely available, meaning that this service is in high demand. The test requires a building that can withstand the pressure exerted from the shock tube, as well as numerous safety protocols. “The shock tube is inside the lab so when a blast test is being performed, sirens, alarms, and flashing lights are set off to alert anyone that may be in the vicinity that a blast test is occurring,” adds Hoover. “Everyone within the building needs to remain inside the office area or control room during the blast test.”
Another popular type of threat resistance testing performed at the lab is forced entry resistance (FER) testing, which evaluates how well a window or door withstands attempts to break through. “FER tests are performed either individual or mob style,” says Hoover. “Personnel make a concentrated assault using hand tools in an attempt to create an opening in the product for access.”
Essentially, a group of people are given tools like sledgehammers and told to try to break through a product such as a door. The product is then evaluated based either on the time it takes to break through or the degree to which it could be penetrated, depending on the test method and standard that the client requires. Of course, Hoover adds, “Proper PPE must be used by individuals partaking in the attack, as safety is the number one priority.”
Expanding into the future
The Intertek York lab offers a wide variety of other safety testing for the building and construction industry, including safety glazing testing, NYC fall prevention, curtain wall testing, and ballistics testing. They also work closely with other Intertek labs to provide one of the most comprehensive safety testing catalogues in North America. While they have faced challenges over the past few years due to the pandemic and the slowed economy, the variety of services they offer allows them to be adaptable. “Our lab in York has been around since the 1970s,” says Jose Colon, regional sales director. “We are proud of our technical expertise and our test equipment.”
In keeping with Intertek’s expansion and growth as a company, the York lab is sure to continue to expand and refine their testing offerings. Just as hurricane testing didn’t come about until the 1990s, there has been a recent surge in demand for ballistics and school security testing and they have taken that shift in stride. “[Intertek York is] always testing new building product technologies,” says Colon, “and there are some interesting new products coming into the market.”