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February 26, 2015

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Maintaining safety: Fire doors and fire risk management

By Neil Ashdown

This year will be the tenth anniversary of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 so by now most building operators are aware that they are required, under the law, to appoint a Responsible Person and carry out a suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment.

The fire risk assessment will identify that effective fire compartmentation makes a huge contribution to fire safety in all but the simplest of buildings. As images taken after a fire at a Dorset school make clear. The floor plans will show the fire compartmentation lines and escape routes as well as indicating the location of fire resisting doors and their fire ratings. Fire compartmentation refers to the walls, floors and ceilings that provide a natural barrier to check the spread of fire and smoke, and fire doors when closed correctly will behave as part of the wall to help achieve effective fire separation and also to restrict development of the fire.

Unfortunately in the real world the facts demonstrate that in many buildings, such as schools, hospitals and social housing, the fire doors are unfit for purpose and safety is therefore severely compromised.

There has been a widespread tendency amongst building owners and operators to regard internal doors as a capital expense, and therefore a neglect to inspect regularly and carry out necessary maintenance work. Obviously, where the doors in question are fire doors this puts the building owner/operator in breach of fire safety law and wide open to enforcement measures and prosecution by the Fire and Rescue Services. Breaches of the RR(FS)O 2005 are taken very seriously and even where there has been no fire the Responsible Person has faced heavy fines and in the case of a Leicester landlord eight months in jail.

The Responsible Person could be a manager, an owner, a company or an organisation and this onerous position and the duty to comply with fire safety law could be shared by more than one individual or company or organisation.

The RR(FS)O 2005 places a direct obligation on the Responsible Person to maintain fire safety measures and devices as being ‘maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair’. This includes fire doors and escape doors and furthermore the Responsible Person has a legal duty where necessary to appoint one or more Competent Persons to assist them in this regard.

Fire doors and escape doors must be regularly inspected and maintained by such Competent Persons. There are some useful resources available to help: BS 9999: 2008 Code of practice for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings is a guidance document recommending inspections every six months and BS 8214: 2008 Code of practice for fire door assemblies is a must for anybody involved in the inspection, installation, maintenance and repair of fire doors. There is even guidance out there about fire doors in heritage and conservation buildings.

There is also help available from the Fire Door Inspection Scheme. In 2012 the fire door industry launched the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) to provide building operators and any person, company or organisation access to education and training to become competent on the subject of fire doors and so enable them to inspect, maintain and repair their fire doors correctly. The highest available level of qualification is Certificated Fire Door Inspector (certFDI) and any building owner/operator needing help, advice and an inspection of their fire doors and escape doors can contact their local fire door inspectors via the FDIS website.

So ten years on from the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 the fire door industry is better equipped than ever to help building operators comply with their legal and indeed social obligations. By using their expertise you can stay on the right side of the law.

Neil Ashdown is Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) general manager

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