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Behind closed doors

Iain McIlwee, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation, explores the importance of fire door maintenance and how everyone can help ensure they remain fit for purpose

The final report from Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of the Building Regulations and fire safety heralds monumental change for the construction and building services sector. It underpins the role of third-party certification, it encourages us to think about a building from concept to demolition, and it looks at the mechanics of competency, the traceability of products and the golden thread of responsibility. It also addresses how a joint competent authority could ensure that we know who is responsible, not just from a practical but an enforcement perspective too.

We must wait to see what appetite the government has for adopting the changes, but much of it is long overdue, and I for one expect that between tighter regulation, better guidance and more robust enforcement, we will see much of what is recommended impacting on the way we all work. Our recommendation to facilities managers is to start ringing the changes now; we all have a responsibility to ensure that those in our care can live, work and sleep in safety. The good news is that when it comes to fire doors, there’s plenty of help at hand.

Often fire doors, once installed, are forgotten, the assumption being that they will just keep working forever. This is categorically wrong and can significantly impact the ability to perform effectively when needed (very much like wedging them open). When the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) was first set up to support competent inspections, from a sample of 31 sites FDIS-certificated inspectors recorded 677 doors and a staggering 2,500 faults. We know from the ongoing Grenfell investigations that doors installed in that building had been tested and failed and many other doors were in a state of disrepair or had closers removed.

This simply isn’t acceptable and is a stark warning that we need to focus, not just on how we move forward with construction, but how construction and facilities management must work hand in hand to ensure that products work throughout their service life. Fundamentally we need to start addressing this legacy of neglect.

A lot of what should be happening is already defined. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 or FSO came into force in 2006. This defines who is responsible for a building and what, in outline, they need to do in terms of risk assessments. It sets down the need to inspect fire doors regularly. In her review Dame Hackitt starts to hone in on the need for tighter controls on ‘who’ is competent to do this kind of work and ‘how’ often it needs to be done (which incidentally depends on the usage pattern of the door), but these are things that should already be considered.

Through our Fire Door Alliance, we strive to ensure that all fire doors supplied in the UK meet the required standard and continue to meet this throughout their service life. People should be inspecting doors and assembling the evidence they have to support any fire resistance claims to see if they could be facing a similar situation to that uncovered at Grenfell. Third-party certification provides the clearest means to ensure a product is fit for purpose, but this is just the start. If it is fitted or maintained by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing, it is literally a disaster waiting to happen.

To help people get started, as part of our Fire Door Safety Week campaign, a simple five-step check was created to highlight any door irregularities:

  • Certification. Look for a label or plug on top (or occasionally on the side) of the door. You can use the selfie function on your camera phone or a mirror to check. If there is, that’s good news; otherwise report it to whoever is in charge of your building.
  • Gaps. Check the gaps around the top and sides of the door are consistently less than 4mm when closed. You can use a £1 coin to get a feel for scale – this is about 3mm thick. The gap under the door can be slightly larger (up to 8mm is not uncommon), but it does depend on the door. As a rule of thumb, if you can see light under the door, the gap is likely to be too big. If the gaps are too big, smoke and fire could travel through the cracks.
  • Seals. Look for any intumescent seals around the door or frame. Check they’re intact with no sign of damage. These seals are usually vital to the fire door’s performance, expanding if in contact with heat to ensure fire (and in some cases smoke) can’t move through the cracks.
  • Hinges. Check all hinges are firmly fixed (three or more of them), with no missing or broken screws. Open the door and take a look at the hinges. Be sure the door is properly maintained so that in the intensity of a fire it will perform properly.
  • Closing properly. Check the door closes firmly onto the latch without sticking on the floor or the frame. Open the door about halfway, let go and allow it to close by itself. A fire door only works when it’s closed. A fire door is completely useless if it’s wedged open or can’t close fully.

By following these steps, any problems can be flagged to the duty holder and fixed as quickly as possible. For more information and downloadable five-step check materials – and to download your free fire door best practice guide – visit www.firedoorsafetyweek.co.uk

About Sarah OBeirne

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