Last year saw a 14 per cent increase in fires in England, according to UK Home Office statistics. And while around three million fire doors are installed in the UK every year, a lack of understanding during operation, maintenance and management of fire doors is still apparent. In this article, David Hindle, Head of Door Closer Sales at ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions UK & Ireland, will address this issue.

Importance of fire doors

Fire doors are often the first line of defense in a fire, yet even after the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, fire door hardware remains a significant area of concern. In May 2018, an Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by dame Judith Hackitt, have been published.

The review highlighted a range of issues, but the message stood clear, the UK’s current approach to fire safety in buildings is not functioning as intended and a new, holistic approach to fire safety is required.

Review of fire inspections

In all fire inspections, there is a responsibility from the building owner to include checks on the fire doors

In all fire inspections, there is a responsibility from the building owner to include checks on the fire doors. However, there is no legal requirement for them to complete any recommended upgrades or repairs, or to prove that they have done so.

This represents a major problem, as doors that do not perform to the required standard could compromise a building’s safety and put occupants at risk. Ultimately, this could lead to liability being assigned back to the building owner or facilities manager.

Need to maintain fire safety standards

Fire safety is only properly maintained if standards and checks are carried out throughout the lifecycle of the product and building. This is best addressed through regular inspection, maintenance and the replacement of products when required.

A review by the Fire Door Inspection Scheme revealed the most common fire door faults, ranging from missing fire or smoke seals, to unsuitable hinges and damage to the door leaf itself. Any one of these issues can render a fire door useless and can seriously impede a door’s capability to protect people from harm.

Door leaf and frame maintenance

Fire door hardware is often not afforded the attention it requires and is left mismanaged throughout its service life. So what needs to be done to ensure fire door hardware is working as expected?

Naturally, the door leaf should not be damaged, warped or twisted, and it is vital to ensure the fire door closes correctly around all parts of the frame, with no distortion between the stiles, top and frame. Gaps between the door and leaf must not be greater than those specified in the manufacturer’s installation instructions or fire certificate data sheet, typically around 3 to 4mm all the way round.

Importance of door closers

A door closer ensures a fire door returns to its fully closed position and the door seals correctly in the door frame

A door closer ensures a fire door always returns to its fully closed position and makes sure that the door seals correctly in the door frame, when not in use. There are three steps to ensuring these components are working correctly.

First, open the door fully and check that it closes without dragging across the floor. Next, open it to approximately 5-10 degrees and again check that it fully closes, engaging any latch or seal. Finally, check the door closing speed is approximately five seconds from a 90 degree angle, ensuring the door does not slam shut.

Intumescent fire and smoke seals

Fire and smoke seals should be in good condition, fit the full length of the door and be secure in the groove. If seals are badly fitted, damaged or painted, then they must be replaced with exactly the same size and intumescent material that was originally specified. If the smoke seals have to be replaced, then they should be fitted in one continuous length, if possible.

To ensure hinges are in good condition, check for visible wear, dark marks or stains around the hinge knuckle that could indicate wear and impending failure. Hinges must be strong enough to carry the door mass, plus robust enough to work efficiently no matter the level of usage.

The hinges should be firmly screwed into the door and frame, ensuring that the seals at the top and sides of the door are not damaged or missing at any time. Intumescent pads should also be used with hinges, as these are required for the door to get its appropriate fire rating.

Locks and lever handles

To measure a handle’s condition, one needs to ensure the lock lever fully returns to a horizontal position after use

Wiping any metal dust deposits off the handles will help ensure that the latch-bolt is engaging smoothly and completely into the keep during use. To measure a handle’s condition, one needs to ensure the lock lever fully returns to a horizontal position after use.

If it does not, the lever may, at best, need adjusting or lubricating. At worst, it may need replacing, as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Again, ensure the lock case is protected by intumescent material.

Maintaining record of fire door inspection

No matter the component, a record of inspection and maintenance should be kept for all door hardware. Furthermore, those responsible for ensuring the fire safety of a site should encourage others to report any issues with any of the door components.

Faults should be fixed as soon as possible, using the correct and fire-rated components. To check the compatibility of components, always consult the fire certificate data sheet or contact the manufacturer.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

David Hindle Head of Door Closer Sales, ASSA ABLOY Ltd

David Hindle is the Head of Door Closer Sales at ASSA ABLOY UK. Previously, he has worked for companies like Allegion, PLC, Kaba Ltd, Glenfield Valves Ltd, CP Cases, and Ashworth & Hindle Limited.

In case you missed it

What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?
What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had ramifications for almost every industry, some more than others. With the pandemic stretching well into a second year, the non-medical consequences continue, and many are wondering about which of the required changes might become permanent. As regards the fire sector, we asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What impact has COVID-19 had on the fire industry?

Keeping The Fires Out And The Lights On
Keeping The Fires Out And The Lights On

The UK’s demand for sustainable heat and power sources is increasing rapidly. This is seeing a growing dependence on renewable energy sources for electricity, and, as we’re facing a landscape of constrained power generation, consistency of this power source is becoming a key concern. Fire is an evolving risk for power stations. It can cause prolonged outages, which are damaging to sites’ personnel, equipment, and fuels. However, these fires are very common. James Mountain, Sales, and Marketing Director, Fire Shield Systems, looks at the current system underlying fire safety for power stations, exploring why a new approach is needed.   Traditional Fire Safety guidance  Over the past ten years, The National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 850 Recommended practice for electric generating plants and high voltage direct current converter stations has been seen as the exemplar internationally for fire safety at power generation sites. These recommendations sit alongside a complex mix of regulations managing the fire protection across sites that create power from combustible feedstocks. Those feedstocks can either be derived from organic sources, including wood and agriculture or refuse sources, including household waste. The exploration of alternative systems is limited, but different fuels and processes need different suppression, detection, and monitoring systems to remain effective. However, chapter nine of the guidance dedicates only four of its 70 pages to the fire risks specifically pertaining to the handling and storage of alternative fuels, a rising concern for the power generation industry. Practical experience of advising on the fire safety for sites handling these fuels has revealed a conflicting array of approaches to risk mitigation, many of which are guided by the owner, led by the insurance industry. For the insurance industry, the main concern is protecting fuels, assets, and equipment. However, insurers often rely on more traditional methods to offer that protection, such as sprinkler systems, despite these not always being suitable in protecting certain types of feedstocks. The exploration of alternative systems is limited, but different fuels and processes need different suppression, detection, and monitoring systems to remain effective. To better address, the growing challenges faced, best practice legislation and guidance for power generation sites needs to reflect real work scenarios, including the myriad incidents which have occurred throughout the past decade.   What are the risks When Dealing with alternative fuel?  When it comes to dealing with alternative fuels, storage, movement, processing, and transportation all present significant fire risks. These risks become more complex with alternative fuels compared with others as, to protect the site effectively, there’s a need to understand their unique properties, consistencies, ingress of hazardous materials, and their reactions on contact with water and foams. When it comes to dealing with alternative fuels, storage, movement, processing, and transportation all present significant fire risks The myriad risks, from carbon monoxide (CO) emissions to large explosions, are guided by an equally complicated set of fire safety guidance. Research into the safe handling and storage of these fuels, and the most suitable mitigation measures to offset the risks, is ongoing. Detecting and monitoring heat within alternative fuels when stored is also challenging, as the material is also an insulator. This means fire and heat are often difficult to identify in their early stages, prior to a blaze taking hold. Some types of alternative fuels are also prone to self-combustion if not monitored carefully. The risk of fires burning slowly within these materials is the topic of a major study from Emerging Risks from Smouldering Fires (EMRIS) between 2015 and 2020. The need for new best practice guidance in fire safety As methods for generating renewable power mature, and new technologies and research emerge, fire safety guidance needs to be updated to reflect this. This is not only a UK-wide challenge, but it’s also recognized across global and European standards. Regulations need to take into account a range of factors to ensure protection systems are effective in practice. The development of renewable power sources requires revision of fire safety guidance. Now, a decade on from when the NFPA 850 was first published, it’s time to revisit its guidance and focus on building a more resilient, fire-safe future for all of the UK’s 78 biomass and 48 waste to energy sites. This involves greater clarity pertaining to the specific risks associated with alternative fuels, such as waste and biomass-derived fuels. The approach needs to be comprehensive, looking at every aspect of designing, installing, and maintaining systems.While the power generation industry remains reliant on outdated and complex guidance, with conflicting approaches to best practice protection, the potential for systems to fail is clear. That robust approach relies on multiple stakeholders working together – including the regulators, government, academics, technology partners, and fire safety professionals. Collaboration is key to build long-term confidence in the safety of sustainable fuels in powering our homes, transport, and industries in the future.

Spot Fires Before They Start: Thermal Imaging For High-Risk Sites
Spot Fires Before They Start: Thermal Imaging For High-Risk Sites

Waste management sites are particularly vulnerable to fires, with hundreds reported every year, just in the UK. The materials stored in a waste heap make them particularly risky environments. ‘Hot spot’ fires, as they’re called, can be caused by chemical waste, flammable items, or the heat caused by the natural breakdown of organic materials.  A blaze can start quickly and without warning, building into a major issue that can threaten lives and livelihoods. And not only that - but in many cases, insurers now require sites to be putting additional updated fire prevention measures in place, in order to validate their existing policies. All this makes it more important than ever to have effective prevention and detection measures on-site, with the ability to extinguish fires swiftly should they develop. Preventing poor prevention Early detection is vital for preventing the dire consequences of a fire. The traditional approaches - manual inspection, gas detection, or basic thermal monitoring - all come with major limitations. Thermal camera prevention software can instantly detect when temperatures are outside of the normal range They all take time and, to be honest, they’re all pretty unreliable. Waste piles can often be many meters deep. When you smell the smoke or see the flames, it’s too late. The damage has already been done and by that stage, you’re long past prevention. Real prevention needs to start earlier, and deeper below the surface. It is said that necessity is the mother of all invention - and out of this need to keep sites safe comes high-resolution fire prevention thermal imaging. Thermal Cameras Thermal cameras from manufacturers such as FLIR, can constantly monitor temperatures across a site. They are highly sensitive to temperature, being accurate to within half a degree centigrade, and programmed to detect heat signatures deep below the surface. This type of prevention software can instantly detect when temperatures are outside of the normal range. A flame will develop at 122 degrees centigrade. If you can catch an elevated temperature and lower it before it reaches that stage, you can stop the fire before it even begins. Oscillating Water Cannons Should the temperature in any area rise enough to become a fire risk – typically 60 degrees centigrade or above – thermal imaging cameras can trigger an alert, informing the operator.  It can be combined with location monitoring software for fast identification of possible ‘hot spots’, and even connected to automated, oscillating water cannons which can locate and extinguish hot spots in seconds. The system will then activate a pair of automated, oscillating water cannons, spraying the affected area to reduce the temperature or extinguish the fire. Distinguish before you extinguish False alarms are a risk with thermal systems. The last thing you want is a sprinkler system going off because a camera detected the heat from a vehicle exhaust. The latest systems can be programmed to distinguish between acceptable heat signatures, such as vehicles, and genuine potential fire risks. On-site fire prevention can now be safer, more reliable, and more efficient, with fewer false alarms Solutions like this have been developed recently by UK machine vision integrator Bytronic, fire prevention imaging supplier Thermascan, and Swedish firm Termisk Systemteknik, using FLIR technology to create a reliable and automated solution to keep sites safe, with rapid detection at a temperature level. In one site, the water cannons were programmed to adjust water pressure and reach based on the location of the hot spot, before automatically deactivating once the temperature has cooled sufficiently. Meanwhile, the thermal cameras – which can detect fires even through thick smoke – monitor the progress of a fire beyond what’s visible with the naked eye. The future of fire prevention? For sites used to manual inspection and sprinkler systems, this technology could be a step-change. The old ways may have been partially effective, but were more likely to be overly sensitive and not targeted to the affected areas, taking more time and potentially causing water damage and pollution elsewhere. With newer automated, thermal imaging solutions, on-site fire prevention can now be safer, more reliable, and more efficient, with fewer false alarms. When hot spots occur, they can be swiftly extinguished with pinpoint accuracy, limiting water waste, property damage, and environmental pollution. It can mean the difference between a successful insurance payment or a significant financial hit, should the worst happen. But with the proper prevention, that worst situation may never occur.