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.
BAFE, the British Approvals for Fire Equipment has stated that professional competence recommendations set out in Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future’ report is set to be fulfilled by BSI with a new standards program. National Standards program “BAFE is actively working on a number of Working Groups (WGs), including the Built Environment Competence Standards (BECS) Strategy Group and the Competence Steering Group (CSG) to help raise and set the bar of fire safety in the built environment,” stated Chris Auger, Head of Schemes, BAFE. Chris adds, “It is vital that there is both a top down and bottom up approach to competence in order to have competent individuals working on and understanding fire safety in construction and, effective and competent management of life and fire safety which will have a ‘trickle down’ effect leading to the much needed culture change that Dame Judith Hackitt has described.” Tackling fire safety competence challenges BSI, in its role as the UK National Standards Body, has announced a new National Standards program British Standards Institution (BSI), in its role as the UK National Standards Body, has announced a new National Standards program to raise professional competence in the built environment sector. The standards aim to tackle the competence challenges identified in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, ‘Building a Safer Future’, conducted by Dame Judith Hackitt. They are a part of the package of measures recommended by the Steering Group on Competence for Building a Safer Future (CSG), which was set out in raising the bar. Building Safety Bill compliance The government-funded program is designed to support the delivery of regulatory policy and the new regulated roles responsible for building safety, set out in the forthcoming Building Safety Bill, while also enabling the large-scale industry-led program to raise competency across the sector. It includes an overarching competence framework standard for everyone working on a building. This is intended to be used by key professions and trades including designers, contractors, fire safety risk assessors, building managers and others in specialist technical or corporate roles. Managing fire safety and building systems The framework will provide a set of core principles of competence, including leading and managing safety, communicating safety, delivering safety, risk management, regulations and processes, building systems, ethics, and fire/life safety. The framework will be developed and made available for use from the Autumn season onwards. After three periods of public consultation and refinement, it will then be published as a British Standard. It will also include a set of competence requirements for the three newly-regulated roles of Principal Designer, Principal Contractor and Building Safety Manager. Fast track PAS standards A set of fast track PAS standards will be produced to meet the urgent need for competent individuals A set of fast track PAS standards will be produced to meet the urgent need for competent individuals, to fulfill these roles set out in the government’s new Bill, to ensure the safety of residents. These key roles have overarching responsibility for the main activities affecting building and life safety at each stage of a building’s life-cycle, including design, construction and operation. They require enhanced competences in addition to any discipline-related competences, relating to their overarching role to ensure that the design intent of the building is maintained and that workers employed and used in design, construction, refurbishment, maintenance and operation are suitably competent. Professional Competence standards program Scott Steedman, Director of Standards at The British Standards Institution (BSI), stated “Dame Judith Hackitt’s report asked the Built Environment industry to change its culture to safeguard people and their properties. In response to the call to put clear responsibility at the heart of the system, BSI as the UK’s National Standards Body, has launched the Professional Competence standards program. The new industry-led standards will support the Building Safety Bill by ‘raising the bar’ across workforce competence.” Dame Judith Hackitt, Author of ‘Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’, stated “The work of the Competence Steering Group has been a 'tour de force' and all of those who have been involved thus far are to be congratulated. As the baton is handed over to BSI to lead us through the standards development process, the whole industry needs to keep up the pace – not just to agree on the new standards, but to make them a reality in practice." She adds, “That will require collaboration and cooperation, and demolition of silos – part of the culture change that is so urgently needed.” Enhancing building fire safety standard The new national standards program is a vital next step in raising the bar for enhanced competence standards" Graham Watts OBE, Chair of Competence Steering Group and CEO of Construction Industry Council (CIC), said “This new stakeholder-led national standards program, under the guidance of BSI, is the welcome and vital next step in raising and setting the bar for enhanced competence standards for all those engaged in ensuring that buildings are safe for their residents and occupants, through the design and construction or refurbishment phases and into the management of buildings in use.” Graham adds, “It builds upon the framework of occupational competences across all sectors that the Competence Steering Group has developed over the past two years.” Compliance with building safety regulations Building Safety Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, said “This government is determined to put residents’ safety first by bringing about the biggest improvements in building safety regulations in 40 years. Regulatory reforms alone won’t achieve this, we need to raise skills across the industry, backed by a strong national competence framework, and we are working together with the BSI and industry to make this happen.” He adds, “We welcome the expertise they bring to the vital work of raising standards of competence to make sure all residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes.” Since the standardization program began in April 2020, it has been overseen by a newly established BSI Built Environment Competence Standards (BECS) Strategy Group. The group consists of strategic, senior-level technical and policy experts from a broad range of organizations involved in the design, construction and management of higher risk buildings. The program will run until 2022.
In lieu of the Fire Safety Event which was meant to take place late April this year (now postponed until September), Nineteen Group hosted an online webinar event to discuss current fire topics. A number of notable fire safety specialists discussed different topics, but the overarching topic was how the coronavirus pandemic will affect fire safety and any additional changes it will require. Niall Rowan, CEO - ASFP, noted Dame Judith Hackitt’s comments that the previously thought difficult process to change the construction industry is very much possible, and coronavirus action has proved that. Fire safety procedures This is also applicable to all building fire safety procedures, if buildings can implement coronavirus safety measures, updates to fire safety (and health and safety) should be running parallel with this in BAFE’s opinion. In the opening session, Peter Aldridge, General Secretary - NAHFO, discussed the fire approach for the NHS Nightingale at Harrogate. Multiple areas were discussed, but it really came down to the thorough skilled assessment of fire risk that ensured multiple people with vulnerable and critical patients were as safe as possible from this element. Conspicuously the ‘humble’ fire extinguisher was one of the significant safety features used. Safer building environment BAFE are a member of the Federation and will continue to support their drive for a safer building environment from fire This was to control any potential smaller fires and prevent the necessity to evacuate COVID-19 affected patients. This was supplemented with the execution of making all NHS and site staff occupying said areas aware of their operation with training. Also touched on was action taken since the Grenfell Tower Fire. Dennis Davis, Executive Officer – Fire Sector Federation, discussed the Federation’s investment in a ‘Decade of Improvement’. One slide proclaimed fire safety was to ‘protect lives and property’. It stated to “use third party certified products to detect, suppress, contain and extinguish fires [and to] encourage suppliers and maintainers to become fire safe accredited [certificated] companies.” BAFE are a member of the Federation and will continue to support their drive for a safer building environment from fire. Fire safety providers Peter Wise, Principal Consultant – FPA, referred to the Act for rebuilding the City of London 1666 as the Dame Judith Hackitt of its day. As we quickly approach the third anniversary of the tragic Grenfell fire, BAFE hopes to see further action taken regarding all the recommendations soon, most notably regarding competency of fire safety providers to protect life. Remarkably in 1666 it only took six months from the fire until the Act was passed in February 1667. Fast forward to now and industry continues to self-regulate with UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification. Mandating this could be a ‘quick win’ for legislators, as previously said by Dennis Davis, Executive Officer – Fire Sector Federation, at the FPA’s Building a Safer Future seminar in January. Physical risk assessment Stephen highlighted the fact that fire safety legislation has not changed in the coronavirus pandemic Stephen Adams, Chief Executive – BAFE, spoke about the importance of Third Party Certification regarding fire safety providers. Stephen highlighted the fact that fire safety legislation has not changed in the coronavirus pandemic. If anything, BAFE believes this has greatly increased its relevance at present, as many buildings are changing their use to comply with coronavirus safety measures. Questions that followed Stephen’s session focused on Fire Risk Assessments. BAFE strongly advised that Third Party Certificated Fire Risk Assessment providers are used and that they are confident to assess your type of building. Coronavirus measures will affect access to particularly high risk areas where online video links with assessors could potentially supplement an exhaustive assessment and review certain accommodations (but this would not replace a physical risk assessment of the building). Any actions taken must be the best course to mitigate fire if building use is changing (e.g. moving staff to previously unoccupied rooms/areas or use of fire doors and keeping these open to minimize contact with handles).
While the Grenfell Inquiry has been paused due to COVID-19, ministers have announced another overhaul of building regulation with the aim to improve fire safety. The measures, which will apply to all new builds over 11 meters, come as part of a wider government initiative to improve fire safety following the tragic Grenfell Tower. This new fire safety program comes a month after Rishi Sunak announced £1bn to remove all types of dangerous cladding with the new Building Safety Fund. announcements on fire safety ‘’Publishing a raft of announcements on fire safety, including the government’s response to its consultation on the creation of a whole new system of fire safety regulation, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the new regime will apply to all buildings of six storeys or more, even when they are below 18m in height." The government has stated this new program which will be governed by a new Building Safety Regulator" "The government has stated this new program which will be governed by a new Building Safety Regulator that will be initially led by Dame Judith Hackitt during the set up phase, who will be tasked with improving the fire safety of buildings with the regulators new 'beefed up’ powers.” emerging risk evidence Jenrick also said the ministry will in May effectively ensure the installation of sprinklers on all residential buildings above 11m in height via an amendment to Approved Document B, the building regulations guidance which covers fire safety. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the plan along with further reforms to the building safety system are the biggest changes in a generation and he added this “new regime will put residents’ safety at its heart.” What’s more, the government have stated that this program would evolve in “in due course, extend to include other premises, based on emerging risk evidence.”