Fire doors are all around us, in schools, offices, factories and shops. They are a vital piece of fire protection equipment, and yet they are still relatively neglected by building owners, managers and inhabitants. This is foolhardy behaviour for two main reasons: firstly, fire doors are often your first line of defence in a fire and secondly, the consequences for the responsible person should disaster strike can be harsh.
If you’ve never experienced a fire safety incident, you may think we’re being over-zealous. And yet, a quick Google search uncovers many true stories of fire door negligence and how this affects people in real life. At a Kent care home, elderly residents were forced to move out with little notice following an inspection by Kent Fire and Rescue Service. Further afield, care homes have been found to be severely lacking which is disappointing. London Fire Brigade discovered serious failings in care homes across the capital after 177 visits.
In this blog, we’ll explain your legal responsibility with regard to the installation and maintenance of fire doors. We’ll also review the essential role they play, every day.
Why are fire doors so important?
Fire doors are designed and engineered to contain the spread of fire and protect lives during evacuation. That’s why it’s so important that your building has the right doors installed. By ‘right doors’ we mean, fire doors which are correctly rated for fire risk. Can you believe that we’ve seen cases of building managers (those ‘responsible’ people) downgrading fire door ratings, on purpose, to save money?
Fire door ratings refer to the length of time a door can withstand fire. Usually 30 minutes, but sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the situation. A fire risk assessor is trained to decide on ratings, having assessed a building’s layout and its escape routes.
It’s important to install the right fire door and it’s also important to treat them with the respect they deserve. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we forget they are there, or treat them like we would a standard door. Misuse (propped open with a chair or boxes) and poor maintenance schedules, over time, compromises a fire door’s integrity and ability to hold back fire and smoke.
The tragedy of Grenfell Tower is never far from our minds. You may recall that inadequately rated fire doors were one of the compounding factors in the devastation of the fire and its unchecked rampage throughout the tower. Incredibly, media reports continue to uncover fire industry safety concerns regarding fire doors and the government’s ongoing lack of action with regard to high-rise buildings.
What does the law have to say about fire doors?
Research shows that fire-related fatalities and injuries can be reduced if the right type of fire door is installed. Poorly maintained fire doors are also a cause for concern. That’s why fire door law exists to help the responsible person familiarise themselves with their legal duties. Remember that failure to fulfil these statutory obligations will result in a penalty, often harsh.
So, what does the law say? The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a duty of care with the building owner or manager – they are the ‘responsible person’ – to install and maintain fire doors to a certain standard. British Safety Standards set out codes of practice in many sectors, including fire safety.
In addition, Building Regulations Approved Document B covers fire safety in all buildings. Your duty is to ensure that your fire doors meet these regulations, usually by sourcing them from a reputable supplier (if replacing old doors), or by using a fire safety supplier to carry out an inspection of your existing doors.
With regards to maintenance, BS9999 recommends at least twice-yearly inspections. We’re often asked, ‘How often should my fire doors be inspected?’ and the answer is always, ‘As often as needed.’ Your fire risk is unique to your building and your organizational needs. Risk varies depending on layout, business needs, number of people on the premises, characteristics of those people which are protected e.g. disability, children or illness. For example, in a large school or hospital, a fire door will take far more punishment than in a sleepy village shop.
I’m not 100% clear on my duties, where can I go for advice?
No-one wants to fall foul of the laws governing fire door safety. If you’re unsure about any aspect of what we’ve discussed above, it’s sensible to seek advice from a fire safety services supplier (like the Silver Group) or speak to your fire risk assessor.
Regular inspections go a long way to ensuring you’re on the right side of the law. At each inspection, your fire door technician will advise you of upgrades and repairs needed. At the Silver Group, we offer a comprehensive fire door inspection service which covers everything the law says you must consider.
Fire door inspections are essential
Would you know what to look for during a fire door inspection? Inevitably, fire doors age over time. Natural wear and tear as well as minor damage should be taken seriously. What was once an acceptable gap may widen as your building naturally moves and settles. Without checks and balances in place, this gap could be the difference between life and death (remember that smoke inhalation is the number one cause of fire-related deaths). This is why your fire door technician is worth his weight in gold.
He’ll check all smoke seals and intumescent strips, which, during a fire, expand with heat to prevent fire and smoke seeping through. He’ll also want to look at all door hinges which we always advise are fire rated, well-fitted and in good working order and all door furniture as well.
Fire signage is mandatory under current fire safety legislation. Fire doors must have clear signs on both sides, telling everyone using them that they are fire doors and that they must remain closed at all times. On that note, if your doors don’t close on their own, they must be checked as this is a breach of safety regulations.
Please take to heart that fire can strike at any time, when you least expect it. Always be prepared.
Fire Door Safety Week is back for 2019 – help to spread the word
Each year, Fire Door Safety Week aims to highlight the importance of installing good quality, third-party certified doors as well as reminding people of the legal responsibility which rests with the responsible person.
This year, Fire Door Safety Week runs from 23 – 29 September. You can get involved and pledge your support in a variety of ways. For more information, visit https://www.firedoorsafetyweek.co.uk