ASSA ABLOY Security Doors looks at a holistic approach to fire doors

Brian Sofley, Managing Director at ASSA ABLOY Security Doors, a UK division of ASSA ABLOY, explains why a new approach is needed to improve fire safety within the building industry.

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ire doors are one of the most fundamental elements of a building’s passive fire protection, acting as the first line of defence in a fire. They provide those vital minutes for occupants to evacuate the building safely.

Poor specification, installation and maintenance can have devastating consequences in the event of a fire, as the UK witnessed with the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017.

Following months of consultations, Dame Judith Hackitt released her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The key message that came from the review was that the failure of the current system has allowed a culture of indifference to manifest in the industry.

The report highlighted the ambiguity over where responsibility lies, rising from the level of fragmentation with the industry. There is also a dangerous ‘race to the bottom’ ethos, with an emphasis on doing things as quickly and cheaply as possible, rather than delivering safe and quality buildings. This has arisen mainly from the absence of best practice and the lack of regulation, exasperated by ignorance and indifference.

Now the onus is on us as an industry to come together and ensure that the fire doors we specify, manufacture, supply, inspect and maintain are strictly compliant.

A fire door is only as strong as the sum of its parts. Should any element fail, it can trigger a domino effect across the other components, with potentially catastrophic results.

Here at ASSA ABLOY Security Doors, we believe that manufacturers and installers have a duty of care at every stage to ensure certification correctly and unambiguously cover solutions being offered to a project. In addition, architects, specifiers, contractors, facility managers and end-users should collectively ensure that thorough due diligence is carried out holistically as part of the specification and procurement process where fire doors are involved.

There are many reasons why a fire door may ultimately fail in the event of a fire. These range from missing fire or smoke seals, to incompatible vision panels or even damage to the door leaf itself. All of these can seriously impede a door’s capability to protect people from harm. In addition to this, doors are complex products with variable configurations and attributes, mixed performance expectations, plus a huge variety of hardware choices. As a result, often these specific combinations can lead to the finished product falling outside of the scope of the supplier’s certification.

Many of the fire safety products used in Grenfell were found to have not performed as they should. The fire safety investigation into the disaster noted that: “Fire doors containing multiple additional fixtures and fittings, unless expressly constructed and fire tested to prove its viability,...pose a serious risk of failure”.

In fact, a BRE Global draft report shows that only 17% of the door closers installed at Grenfell were present and working, and nearly 50% were not working, demonstrating the importance of fire safety products performing as required. It is therefore essential that a thorough study is completed to compare the expectations of each fire door and ensure they are accurately covered through certification issued by a third-party accredited body. Validation should not be based on self-certification or claimed compliance.

The testing of complete doorsets or doorset components is mandatory but doors, including fire doors, are often installed on projects near to its practical completion, and currently, it is often only in the closing stages of the project, immediately prior to handover, that product conformity information is requested and submitted.

By this time it is often too late to address any concerns with non-conformities or ambiguities, leading people to compromise or believe that liability lies elsewhere in the supply chain, rather than condemning and replacing the products. Fines for late building completion may result in this stage being overlooked or rushed through, ultimately putting occupants at risk.

The suggestion by the independent review of a revision to British Standards to determine how and when such product assessments should be used, we believe is insufficient. Full certification should be mandatory across all fire safety products in all circumstances.

It is clear from the review that there is no single solution, in either Government regulations or industry practice, that will solve the issue of fire legislation. We need to work collectively to create a cohesive industry that puts fire safety at the forefront of building design, construction and maintenance, to help propagate a culture of best practice.

As part of Fire Door Safety Week, ASSA ABLOY UK is hosting its annual fire safety event on Thursday 27th September at the West Midlands Fire Service Headquarters in Birmingham, in order to help raise the bar on quality standards which are both expected and required for fire door safety. To register your interest and reserve a place at the event, please visit https://bit.ly/2vqnbdt.

ASSA ABLOY UK has also issued an impactful and educational white paper in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.

Available to download from www.assaabloy.co.uk/FDSW2018, the white paper discusses fire door design and specification, training and certification, along with product quality and performance. It also suggests ways in which everyone can strive towards industry-wide best practice in the future.

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