IMO underlay

Specialist underlays for safety at sea.


FLOORING and accessories must fulfil certain fire protection requirements in order to be used in public facilities and there are particularly rigorous standards for materials used on ships and offshore installations.

Safety is paramount at sea and in the event of a fire, there’s a high degree of danger in all areas but particularly those with heavy pedestrian traffic, such as in foyers, waiting areas and restaurants. It’s for these reasons special safety precautions are necessary when it comes to the specification of products to be used in ship interiors, including the floorcoverings. The focus of these measures is the prevention and containment of a fire.

When tested for fire resistance, floorcoverings in high traffic areas, as well as in cabins, must perform well but they must also feel good. As with all flooring materials, from carpets to luxury vinyl tiles and hard flooring, the right type of underlay will make sure they look as good as possible for as long as possible, as well as perform well.

Working together, floorcoverings and the right underlay can help to minimise fire risks, reduce noise, add warmth and ensure a comfortable and quality finish that will look better for longer.

What is the IMO standard?
Specifiers and ship-owners must ensure that all products used on-board are fully tested and have the appropriate certifications. Manufacturers from all parts of the world wishing to supply floorcovering products to the marine and offshore industry must comply with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Fire Test Procedures (FTP) Code for flammability (Part 5) and smoke/toxicity (Part 2). These state that ‘materials must not be capable of producing excessive quantities of smoke and toxic products or not to give rise to toxic hazards at elevated temperatures’.

From the International Maritime Organisation website:

As a specialised agency of the United Nations, IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.

IMO measures cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, opration and disposal.

Materials must pass the IMO’s surface flammability, smoke and toxicity requirements for floorcoverings to be deemed suitable for installations offshore and on seafaring vessels travelling in international waters.

Materials which pass the IMO FTP tests must also meet the requirements of the Maritime Equipment Directive (MED) before they can be affixed with the ‘wheel mark’ of compliance.
Manufacturers should have two levels of MED approval – Schedule B (product related) and either Schedule F (batch related) or Schedules D or E (process related). The product supplier must also provide a Declaration of Conformity to be kept onboard for inspection.

Types of IMO underlay
Floorcovering designs on cruise ships often incorporate patterns and texture, so the underlay systems need robust performance standards to ensure dimensional stability, appearance retention and increased life of the carpet.

IMO underlays also need to be quick and easy to install for interiors refurbishments, and suitable for use with stretch-fit and double-stick application methods to ensure a quality finish.

Lightweight options are preferred to minimise fuel costs and so many IMO underlays are made from polyurethane (PU) or latex foam in a variety of thicknesses suitable for different areas. For example, spaces with high foot traffic will require a more robust and higher density underlay while rooms where comfort is more of a priority such as cabins may be more suited to a lower density underlay.

How IMO underlays perform
Some IMO underlays achieve a high degree of flame retardancy owing to the inclusion of aluminium trihydrate (ATH), an endothermic compound which can absorb high quantities of heat when acted upon by fire. ATH’s ability to break down under heat to form water gives the underlay a self-extinguishing property.

As well as helping ensure the safety requirements of a ship and its passengers, quality IMO underlays can enhance the comfort and durability of the floorcovering.

In high-traffic areas, IMO underlays can protect and prolong the life of the flooring.

In private rooms and suites, IMO underlays can give a feeling of luxury and warmth and enhance the comfort of the passengers.

IMO underlays can also improve sound quality on-board – one of the main issues for specifiers and ship owners – and provide additional interior richness by reducing the level of structural and airborne noise to acceptable standards. This is particularly important in cabins, where passengers and crew want to be able to relax in relative peace.

As a significant contributor to the style of a cruise ship’s interior, floorcoverings can leave a lasting impression for passengers and ensure superior levels of comfort for everyone onboard. IMO underlays optimise the life and appearance of carpets in a wide variety of very demanding hospitality environments such as cruise ships where the very highest safety standards are also a principal factor.

01706 213131