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By Assa Abloy Door Group
The annual Fire Door Safety Week campaign (23 – 29 September) creates an opportunity for us to reflect on the vital role fire doors play in keeping a building and its occupants safe. Here, Brian Sofley, Managing Director of ASSA ABLOY Door Group, explores the latest legislation and advice when it comes to fire door safety and how this affects facilities managers.
Fire doors are often the first line of defence in a fire, yet a lack of understanding during specification, manufacture, installation, maintenance and management is still apparent. Even after the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, fire doors remain a significant area of concern and are often not afforded the attention they require and mismanaged throughout their service life.
Following the aftermath of Grenfell, it was clear that a full review and reform was needed of the building and fire safety regulatory system. In May 2018, results of an Independent Review of Building Regulation and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, were published.
It was this review that led to the publication of the Building a Safer Future: Implementation Plan from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), which sets out how both the Government and the industry will achieve the systematic overhaul required to improve building and fire safety.
The plan sets out a statement of intent from the Government, for construction and manufacturing industries to take a comprehensive approach to fire safety products. Ensuring that, through third-party certification and standards, their safety requirements are integral – not just at the manufacturing stage, but during installation, inspection and throughout ongoing maintenance.
In the UK, current regulations require commercial and social housing developments to be fitted with fire doors, however, nationally there are no laws for the mandatory inspection and maintenance specifically of these doors. This can create issues for facilities managers, as fire doors can become unfit for purpose if mistreated or poorly maintained.
Office guidance states that public or private shared properties should be spilt into compartments or smaller spaces with barriers to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. The fire doors used to help create these compartments should be able to halt a fire for at least 30 minutes, with taller or higher occupancy buildings needing doors to be able withstand a fire for at least 60 minutes. However, if just one of these components fail due to poor maintenance or damage, the effectiveness of the system can be severely reduced.
High use, lack of user care, insufficient or no maintenance and even the natural shifting and settling of a building over time can result in fire safety products becoming ineffective – from excessive gaps around door leaves to damaged or missing seals. In fact, one of the most common issues resulting in significant damage to doors, frames and hardware is simply down to general wear and tear, use or abuse. Although this cannot be prevented, actions of facilities managers can have a controlled effect on products when they are inspected and maintained regularly.
In addition, poorly maintained hardware components, such as door closers can prevent fire doors from shutting properly thereby reducing the effectivenss of the fire door set.
Incorrect specification throughout the construction phase, driven by budget reduction needs or to take competitive advantage often carries risk of non-compliance or potential for future failure post handover. Door frames manufactured from MDF materials, for example, when used on high traffic doors can often result in hinge screws no longer gripping properly and therefore causing door leaf movement, misalignment and inability to close. If a fire door leaves large gaps around the doorway, is damaged, or jammed open, it completely loses its effectiveness as a fire prevention tool.
It is also not uncommon for unauthorised or uncontrolled modifications to be made, or accidental or malicious damage to be sustained by a fire door all of which can have a significant impact on its performance. In post Grenfell reports it was noted that in some properties large numbers of fire doors had even been removed, clearly resulting in no fire compartmentation as design intended
When installed, a fire door is subject to varying demands and pressures according to the building use and type. Its performance as a fire door should always be assessed with these in mind. If neglected, these issues may cause fire control systems to fail, increasing the risk to both property and lives. So, what should be done?
Regular, mandatory checks can ensure that any wear and tear or ineffective doorsets can be noted and action can be taken. But fire safety can only be properly assured if the standards and checks of equipment such as fire doors, are carried out by-the-book and throughout the lifecycle of both the products and the building. This is best addressed through regular product specific inspection by qualified technicians, strict adherence to recommended maintenance cycles and completion of all necessary repairs or replacements of products where needed.
The success of regular inspections and ongoing maintenance in upholding fire safety relies on individuals being well-trained. As a critical component in the overall safety of a building, training should be regulated and up to standard so that skills can be certified and assessed – ideally testing should be carried out by a qualified person – not just the ‘responsible person’.
To aid the auditing and ongoing inspection of fire safety products, data should be held electronically, providing evidence of third-party certification, inspection records and performance related information. Approaching this as a digital first process makes it more streamline, less resource intensive and limits the risk of human error.
This year, the Government reviewed suggestions put forward by the Competence Steering Group and made recommendations on whether legislation should be introduced to underpin any new system in order to ensure compliance.
The Government agreed with much of what the Hackett Independent Review recommended, including the way facilities managers and building safety managers complete their role. Proposing to create, in law, the role of a building safety manager. Required to carry out their functions in accordance to the building safety certificate and the safety case, building and safety managers must ensure that qualified people are employed to regularly monitor and maintain the building and its information management systems.
We at ASSA ABLOY Door Group believe the implementation plan has stayed true to many of the recommendations outlined in the original review. The recognition of the importance of third-party certification and the need for legislation to cover fire safety products throughout the lifetime of a product and building is extremely encouraging for the future of fire safety.
Door Group can help support building specifiers and owners in complying with the latest standards and the recommended changes in the Implementation Plan, through our wide range of product solutions and services.
In fact, Door Group is one of very few manufacturers to offer a complete solution of fire doors, hardware and ironmongery through a ‘cradle to grave’ approach of technical specification, manufacturing, installation, fire door inspection and service, and maintenance packages in support of architects, contractors, facilities managers and end users.
Fire Door Safety: Maintenance Matters
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