As fire safety continues to make the headlines, Karen Trigg of Allegion UK outlines the importance of hardware selection and reminds decision makers of how routine checks can save lives.

Door hardware plays a role in the operational integrity of a building, and more crucially, is a key element of a facility’s fire safety and security.

Putting fire safety measures at risk

Fire doors, and their accompanying hardware in particular, require special attention from facility managers and installers. Installing inefficient equipment could suddenly put a whole building’s network of fire safety measures at risk. And in light of this year’s debate on the government’s planned fire safety reforms, the importance of fire door hardware is now more valued than ever.

The importance of fire door hardware is now more valued than ever

The expanding role of hardware is also giving decision makers extra considerations to make when selecting hardware. From ease of integration to the flow of movement – various factors can dictate a decision, potentially overwhelming some. Yet, decision makers must recognize the responsibility they carry in ensuring both a door and its hardware operate effectively – even after installation.

A cultural change

Fire doors are designed to protect occupants from the spread of fire, smoke and toxic fumes. Because of this, hardware (including handles, closers and hinges) must meet certain standards and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements.

Yet, as phase one of the Grenfell Inquiry has once again reminded us, not all buildings are meeting these requirements. Detailed Grenfell reports have raised questions over the integrity of the building’s fire doors, focusing on the failure of compartmentalization and broken self-closing mechanisms on flat entrance doors. With incorrect hardware selection or failed maintenance to blame, this case, like many others, should become the catalyst for change – before the safety of others is jeopardized.

Industry experts are calling for a change in fire safety culture

Today, hardware adaptable and designed to tackle almost all fire safety, security and operational challenges that a building can present. From access and emergency egress elements to the more unique and defined details such as flow of movement, its importance simply can’t be understated. But too often, purchase decisions can be led by cost, as opposed to quality.

With this in mind, industry experts are calling for a change in fire safety culture. Although there are various elements and touchpoints to consider, one area that must change quickly is how we choose our door hardware. Manufacturers, architectural ironmongers and installers must all recognize that a ‘one size fits all’ solution doesn’t exist and, instead, make adequate, proactive choices – moving away from reactive decisions because fire safety requires extra consideration, even after a hardware decision has been made.

Inspections and checks

Even with the correct door hardware in place, its operational life can be significantly reduced if basic maintenance is neglected. Previously, best practice guidelines have suggested that the performance of self-closers should be checked once every six months. However, the ‘Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’ has in 2020 proposed quarterly fire door checks as part of their updated fire safety reforms.

Building owners must ensure all doors are well kept and operational to meet health and safety requirements, including all door furniture and panic and emergency exit hardware. With most building entrances enduring repeated use, durability can sometimes become an issue – especially in areas of high footfall. However, as part of regular maintenance periods, both occupants and qualified teams can undertake a number of hardware checks.

Visual inspections can determine whether a door and its hardware has attained any damage. Both the physical door and its surrounding frame and hardware can become damaged over time. However, if its functionality is being effected, the damaged area should be replaced immediately.

The physical door and its surrounding frame and hardware can become damaged

Taking the right steps

Aside from visual inspections, functional checks can also be made and are key to maintaining a door’s fire safety and operational elements. Functional checks will reveal whether hardware is still operating effectively, without requiring any undue force. Seals or weatherstripping can sometimes become loose and inhibit the correct operation of a fire door and may need to be replaced. Similarly, some fixings may need to be tightened to ensure that the door can swing freely. By completing these checks, not only will facility managers expand the lifespan of their hardware, but they’ll also protect the lives of occupants.

The choice of hardware will always be integral in the success of a facility’s fire safety. With various high profile failings being publicized it’s clear that a change in approach to fire safety is long overdue. And with the development of new fire safety reforms, we now should be guiding those responsible to better standards within their own buildings. After all, it only takes the failure of one designated fire door to spell disaster.

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Karen Trigg Business Development Manager, South East, Allegion

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