18th Aug 2023 -

Within modern construction, steel frame systems (SFS) have emerged as a game-changing solution, offering both structural integrity and design flexibility. But with any construction method, ensuring safety and success requires a comprehensive understanding of best practices and meticulous execution. By exploring the core principles of how to safely and successfully install SFS you will be equipped with the essential insights of navigating this innovative approach while upholding the highest standards of safety.

What is a steel frame system?

A steel frame system (SFS) is a structural construction method that utilises steel framing components to create the load-bearing framework of a building. It involves assembling steel studs and tracks, as well as other elements to form a sturdy and versatile skeleton structure. SFS is often used as an alternative to traditional timber or concrete construction due to its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, durability, and ease of customisation. Also, the modular build of steel frame construction allows for efficient on-site assembly. This makes it particularly well-suited for projects where speed, precision, and design flexibility are paramount. You can learn more about SFS from our detailed article. 

How to safely install SFS 

Achieving a secure and well-executed SFS installation is essential to the integrity and longevity of any construction project. With a focus on safety and precision, we outline a set of 8 valuable top tips for a safe and secure SFS installation. From adherence to design plans to the importance of quality control, these guidelines provide a detailed framework to ensure that SFS installations are conducted with the utmost care. 

1. Pre-installation inspection

Be sure to thoroughly inspect all the SFS components before you start the installation process. This will help you to identify any potential defects, damage, or inconsistencies that could compromise structural integrity.

2. Adherence to design plans

Particularly for builders, it is crucial to follow detailed design plans and specifications provided by structural engineers, ensuring precise placement and alignment of SFS components.

3. Secure fastening

Make sure you use appropriate SFS fixings and accessories such as fasteners, screws, bolts, and anchors to securely attach elements to each other and create a safe, sturdy structure.

4. Utlise levelling tools

Throughout the installation, use levelling tools to ensure SFS framing components are installed vertically and horizontally. By doing this, it will help to maintain the intended alignment and prevent load-bearing discrepancies.

5. Structural bracing

To maintain stability and prevent shifting of SFS elements, be sure to implement temporary bracing during installation until the entire system is fully assembled and integrated.

6. Fire and thermal barriers

It is important to install fire-resistant barriers and insulation materials in accordance with safety regulations. This will help to enhance fire protection and energy efficiency within the SFS system.

7. Quality control and inspections

During the installation process, regularly carry out inspections to verify accuracy, alignment, and adherence to safety standards. When building steel frame building systems, you should address any issues promptly to avoid compounding problems.

8. Weather considerations

Make sure you take weather conditions into account, as adverse conditions can affect installation quality. Plan for protective measures such as temporary enclosures or laying tarps if necessary.

What are the potential risks of an unsafe SFS installation?

A steel frame system (SFS) structure on multiple levels from the inside.

There are plenty of benefits to SFS construction. But a failure to adhere to proper installation practices can result in a range of serious risks that compromise structural integrity, safety, and overall project viability. In this section, we explore the potential hazards associated with an unsafe SFS installation. 

Structural compromises

  • Reduced load-bearing capacity: Improperly installed SFS components may weaken load-bearing capabilities, jeopardising the structural integrity of the building.
  • Collapses and failures: Inadequate installation can cause partial or complete structural collapses, endangering people and causing extensive damage.

Safety hazards

  • Falling debris: Loose or improperly secured SFS elements can detach and fall, posing a risk of injury to construction workers and occupants below.
  • Instability during seismic events: Although extremely rare, an unsafe SFS installation can make buildings more prone to earthquake damage, potentially endangering lives.

Fire safety concerns

  • Inadequate fire resistance: Poorly installed fire-resistant barriers or insulation within the SFS system can compromise a building's ability to contain and withstand fires.

Energy efficiency and insulation issues

  • Thermal bridging: Incorrect installation of SFS components can create thermal bridges. This reduces the energy efficiency of the building and potentially leads to increased heating and cooling costs.

Moisture and environmental damage

  • Water intrusion: Improper sealing or installation of SFS components can allow water infiltration. As a result, this can lead to moisture-related issues like mould growth, deterioration, and compromised indoor air quality.

Project delays and budget overruns

  • Rework and repairs: Detecting unsafe installations may require significant rework and repairs, leading to project delays and increased costs.
  • Legal and regulatory penalties: An unsafe SFS installation could result in regulatory fines, legal liabilities, and reputational damage for all parties involved.

Long-term durability

  • Corrosion and deterioration: Poorly executed installation methods can accelerate the corrosion of steel components and SFS fixings. This can reduce the system's overall lifespan and durability.

Quality and aesthetics

  • Uneven finishes: Incorrectly installing an SFS system may result in uneven or misaligned finishes, affecting the visual appeal and aesthetics of the building.

Different SFS types and safety considerations

Below, we profile the main SFS types, their diverse applications across roofing, walls, and flooring, and key safety advice for each one. From the great compatibility of portal frame systems in roofing to the seamless adaptability of light gauge steel frames (LGSF) in walls, each system type has its niche in shaping distinct architectural elements.

Type of SFSApplicationSafety advice
Portal frame systemRoofing: Suitable for roofing in industrial and commercial buildings, providing wide spans and cost-effective solutions for creating expansive roof areas.Ensure you build a proper connection detailing between the portal frame columns and roof beams to withstand both vertical and lateral loads.
Space frame systemRoofing: Excel in roofing applications, especially for structures like stadiums and airport terminals, where large spans are desired.Make sure all connections are properly secured. Conduct regular inspections to identify any signs of loosening.
Composite frame systemFlooring: Highly effective for flooring in multi-storey buildings. The combination of steel and concrete creates a robust floor that distributes loads efficiently.Proper curing of the concrete slabs should be utilised. Adequate fireproofing measures must also be implemented to maintain fire resistance.
Light gauge steel frame (LGSF) systemWalls: Versatile and commonly used for both interior and exterior walls in residential and light commercial buildings.Proper fastening and bracing are crucial to maintain wall stability. Fire protection measures should be taken to enhance the SFS wall structure.
Steel-framed modular constructionWalls: Well-suited for creating walls in various building types, offering an efficient assembly process.A secure connection of modular units during assembly is essential to ensure overall structural integrity.
Balloon and platform frame systemsWalls: Used for both interior and exterior walls in residential construction.Strong anchoring of the wall framing to the foundation and proper bracing techniques are important to ensure wall stability.

Where to find SFS safety codes and building regulations

A modern steel frame system (SFS) pictured from the outside against a grey sky.

As SFS continues to evolve, adherence to these safety codes and building regulations stands as a testament to the industry's commitment to quality, security and protection. Embracing this framework is not only a legal obligation but a pivotal step towards realising the full potential of metal and steel's position in modern construction.

Building regulations

Compiled by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), building regulations are a set of standards that cover various aspects of construction, including structural design and fire safety. Approved Document A specifically addresses structural safety and provides guidance on the design and construction of buildings, including those with SFS.

British Standards (BS) and Eurocodes

There are several key British Standards and Eurocodes related to SFS installation that you should closely follow.

  • BS EN 1993-1-1: Eurocode 3: Design of steel structures - Part 1-1: General rules and rules for buildings.
  • BS EN 1993-1-8: Eurocode 3: Design of steel structures - Part 1-8: Design of joints.
  • BS EN 1090-2: Execution of steel structures and aluminium structures - Part 2: Technical requirements for the execution of steel structures.
  • BS EN 1090-1: Execution of steel structures and aluminium structures - Part 1: Requirements for conformity assessment of structural components.
  • BS 5950-1: Structural use of steelwork in building - Part 1: Code of practice for design - Rolled and welded sections. 
  • BS 5950-5: Structural use of steelwork in building - Part 5: Code of practice for the design of cold-formed thin gauge sections.
  • BS 5950-8: Structural use of steelwork in building - Part 8: Code of practice for fire resistant design. 
  • BS 6399-1: Loading for buildings - Part 1: Code of practice for dead and imposed loads. 

NHBC (National House Building Council) Standards

The NHBC sets technical standards for the design and construction of new homes in the UK. These standards may include requirements for steel frame systems in residential construction.

Fire safety regulations

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in 2017, fire safety regulations and standards have been under scrutiny and review. Regulations such as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and guidance from the MHCLG may impact the design and use of SFS, especially in relation to fire safety.

Local council requirements

Some local councils may have specific regulations or guidelines related to SFS that you must adhere to in their respective jurisdictions. Be sure to consult your local planning office for guidance. 

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM)

CDM regulations provide guidance on health and safety in construction projects. Therefore, these guidelines may impact the planning and execution of steel frame construction projects.

Select your SFS components from Building Materials Nationwide 

Our comprehensive selection of SFS caters to the diverse needs of construction projects across the UK. From robust structural components to versatile framing solutions, we offer a wide array of SFS options designed to enhance both the efficiency and durability of modern buildings. With a commitment to quality, our range of SFS products embodies the latest industry advancements and empowers you to embrace cutting-edge solutions. 

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