September 17, 2014

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Fire safety: the fire doors in your premises could put you in jail

Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) general manager Neil Ashdown


Many sites in the UK have the wrong types of doors installed for fire protection

No health and safety manager would intentionally put the safety of a building’s users at risk, yet there are an average of 62 non-domestic building fires every day.

There were more than 1,000 fatalities or casualties from those fires in 2012-13, and an estimated billion pound bill for fire-related property insurance claims last year. So what’s going wrong?

We know from research carried out by us and other fire door experts such as the BWF-CERTIFIRE Scheme, that part of the problem is directly linked to passive fire protection failures – many of the sites we visit simply have had the wrong type of doors installed.

Of course it’s easy to see how that might happen. With various types of intumescent, acoustic and smoke seals available, a whole range of ironmongery and signage on offer, (some of which is essential and some just optional) as well as different types of glass, glazing retention systems and beading, it’s no easy decision choosing which doorset is required. But whether specification is part of your role or it’s down to someone else, what is purchased is fundamental to safety.

Probably more frustrating are the sites we see where the right types of doors have been specified, but they have not been fitted correctly. Gaps around the perimeter of the door are very important to ensure correct performance of the intumescent seals in a fire situation, but too big a gap can let through potentially lethal smoke or flames. Best practice guidance is a 3mm gap between the door edge and frame around the perimeter and 8-10mm maximum at the threshold (3mm where smoke protection is required).

Again, it might not be your job to oversee installations, but if it isn’t done correctly, its consequences could become your responsibility. Another very common problem we see is where fire doors have been modified. For example, fitting a glazed vision panel to a fire door to meet DDA requirements and Building Regulations can have a huge effect on the integrity of the fire door. So this should only be attempted if the implications are clearly understood.

A further common issue is the correct selection of architectural ironmongery and seals. Choosing the right hinges, locks, seals and other elements is absolutely essential. Even if you purchase appropriate doors and your installers know what the gaps should be, if unsuitable hinges are used the doors may drop and become ineffective over time. It is highly likely you have legal responsibilities here.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to all non-domestic buildings including the common parts of flats and houses of multiple occupation. Also known as the FSO, this legislation states that it is the duty of the “responsible person” (RP) to reduce and manage fire risk. This duty may fall directly to you or you may be nominated by the RP to be the competent person in charge of maintaining fire prevention devices, keeping them fit for purpose and undertaking preventive and protective measures.

So you really do need to be confident that your fire door knowledge is accurate and up-to-date. The consequences of not meeting the regulations can result in severe punishments. There has been a recent case where Building Managers in London were fined £100,000 and a case last year which resulted in a 15 month prison sentence. Worse still is that fires can, of course, result in tragedy, such as the case of Sophie Rosser, a 23 year old woman who lost her life due in part to a fire door being jammed open against a warped wooden veneer floor.

As a health and safety manager, how confident are you that your building will meet the legal requirements for fire doors? If there is any doubt in your mind you should ask a Certificated Fire Door Inspector to take a look at your property and determine whether there are any shortfalls. You may also want to think about you or your team members undertaking a qualification such as the Diploma in Fire Doors so that you can either keep some of the assessment and maintenance procedures in-house or can be confident that you can check the work of your contractors secure in the knowledge that your information is up-to-date.

The Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) provides online learning education modules leading to a diploma and independent assessment that can enable you to become certificated as a fire door inspector. And because it’s online and available through smartphones and tablets too, it can be worked through whenever and wherever it suits you. Developed by industry experts and delivered by the BWF-CERTIFIRE Scheme and the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers (GAI), FDIS was Europe’s first qualification specifically aimed at transforming people’s knowledge about fire doors. It currently has over 500 people registered.

Fire Safety in 2023 eBook

SHP's sister site, IFSEC Insider has released its annual Fire Safety Report for 2023, keeping you up to date with the biggest news and prosecution stories from around the industry.

Chapters include important updates such as the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and an overview of the new British Standard for the digital management of fire safety information.

Plus, explore the growing risks of lithium-ion battery fires and hear from experts in disability evacuation and social housing.

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Bob Wallace
Bob Wallace
9 years ago

What a scare-mongering headline, which is designed to frighten people and get your company more work!! I doubt if any H&S manager would be jailed through poorly fitted fire doors unless they knew of and ignored the problems, or actively allowed in-correct doors and fittings to be installed.
Stick to writing an informative piece, which educates and raises awareness will you.

Jamie Pownall
Jamie Pownall
9 years ago

Ditto to Bob’s comment. Is this an informative article or sales pitch!!? Not only that but why is the DDA quoted in the article – this was replaced with the Equality Act 2010 – mis-informing!

Neil Ashdown
Neil Ashdown
9 years ago

Hello gentlemen, Thank you for your comments and I can obviously see why you would make them. I agree the headline is dramatic but scaremongering no. Please let me explain. FDIS is working with local Fire and Rescue Services to hold free to attend seminars about the importance of fire doors being fit for purpose and delegates have so far found that the talk from the FRS officer very sobering and where, in his talk, he highlights poorly installed and maintained fire doors this has resonated with them. The prosecutions are very real as are the words of the coroner… Read more »