This article was published recently in Construction Manager a website of the CIOB. Correctly specified, installed and maintained, fire doors SAVE lives. Don’t gamble with fire safety, it WILL catch you out when you least expect it and when you are least prepared!
Why fire doors are so important?
• What to look out for when specifying them
• What the Building Regulations say
The Lakanal House disaster is a stark reminder of the dangers of fire in buildings – and the importance of correctly specifying and installing key products. John Fletcher explains what to look out for when it comes to fire doors.
Photograph: David Askham/Alamy
In July 2009, a terrible fire took hold in a 12-storey block of flats in Camberwell. Six people were killed and at least 20 people were injured. It was the UK’s worst tower block fire.
The inquest into the Lakanal House tragedy closed at Easter this year and legal action is continuing, so there is not much more that can be said at this stage about what went so badly wrong. However, a fire scientist from BRE was able to give some good insights into one of the areas of failure.
Commenting on the fire doors, he told the inquest: “The fire impacted on the front door and on the panel above the front door and on the boxing in under the stairs and on the escape door on to the corridor. The panel above the front door failed very quickly. The boxing in under the stairs failed within two to three minutes after being exposed to fire, and that happened at about 16.50 hours. The front door failed and collapsed into the corridor at about 17.19 hours.”
These facts are alarming and a stark reminder of the potential consequences of poor specification, installation or maintenance of a critical element in fire safety. To avoid a situation like this happening again, all building owners, contractors and construction managers will benefit from further understanding the role of fire doors as well as the demands of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, commonly known as the RRO.
The RRO replaced more than 70 pieces of previous fire legislation, including the old fire certificate. The law now firmly places responsibility for fire safety in commercial and public buildings, including the common parts of flats and houses of multiple occupation, to whoever has day-to-day control of the premises. Each business must appoint a responsible person, whether it be the owner, manager, facilities manager or an expert consultant, to manage the fire risk to the building, including protecting those using the premises and its immediate surroundings.
The emphasis of the RRO is on preventing fires and reducing risk. The Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for the legislation, divides all non-domestic buildings into 11 sections, producing a detailed guide for each. The guides are developed to inform the responsible person on how to comply with the RRO, by helping them to carry out a fire risk assessment of the building and identifying the fire precautions that need to be implemented. The guides are available for download at www.communities.gov.uk/publications/fire/regulatoryreformfire
Why fire doors are so important
All of us who use or occupy any building have a right to expect that we will be safely protected should a fire break out. Fire doors are part of a building’s passive fire protection system, an essential requirement for all public buildings, offices and factories.
They are also a requirement in certain domestic situations, such as in flats, or where a door leads into an integral garage, or in any dwelling where there is a second floor habitable room such as loft conversions or a “room in the roof”.
All rooms in any of these situations are separated from other rooms, or “compartmented”, to keep any fire in the area in which it starts, to protect the occupants (and contents) of other compartments and to provide a safe, protected escape route. This subdivision slows down the spread of fire and smoke and allows occupants to either escape or wait for rescue within a protected area.
The walls, ceilings, entrances and exits are therefore designed to resist the fire for a specified period of time.
How to buy fire doors
Most doors are bought via builders’ merchants and distributors. But a fire door is actually a group of components that are required to perform correctly together in the event of a fire. These components include the door leaf, frame, seals and essential building hardware which are referred to in the door’s fire test evidence. Using the wrong components may have a significant impact on the overall performance of the fire door.
Correct signage is also required on all fire doors installed in non-domestic buildings. Signs should be put on both sides of the door and must clearly indicate that the door is a fire door and any further instructions required such as “Keep Closed” or “Keep Locked”.
Fire doors are rigorously tested and must be fitted with matching components
Doorsets or door assemblies?
Fire doorset BS EN 12519 provides the following definition: a “complete unit consisting of a door frame and a door leaf or leaves, supplied with all essential parts from a single source”. This means that a door leaf is factory pre-hung in its frame, with hinges, glazing system (glass, seal, bead and fixing), fire and (when required) smoke seals, and ironmongery. A fire doorset is a fully finished, engineered unit from a single manufacturer, with all components matched and pre-assembled in the factory and is covered by a single fire certificate. A whole doorset supplied in individual component parts for assembly on site is often referred to as a door kit.
Fire door assemblies BS EN 12519 provides the following definition: a “complete assembly as installed, including door frame and one or more leaves, together with its essential hardware supplied from separate sources”. This means that it is a fire door installation made up from loose, correct, compatible components — consisting of a door leaf, frame, architraves, glazing system, decorative finishes, seals, intumescents, ironmongery and door furniture, sourced from different suppliers and manufacturers, made up on site into the final door assembly. It is the only acceptable alternative to a fire doorset.
Is one better than the other? No. Properly certificated fire doorsets and fire door assemblies will have compatible components that meet the Building Regulations and will work in the event of a fire. So the decision depends on the user’s needs, budget and convenience.
What does matter, though, is that all the information relating to the fire doorset or assembly is handed over to the responsible person, since this will be necessary in future inspections and for any maintenance that may be required.
Fit for purpose?
Manufacturers often make claims that their products are tested and achieve a certain performance level. But there are three ways in which manufacturers can describe their compliance:
Self-declaration Where a manufacturer makes their own claim of conformity by stating that the door, doorset or door component “complies with” or is “designed to” or “tested to” a certain standard.
An increasing number of fire door manufacturers and component manufacturers are making such claims, but these are no guarantee that products will meet the right standards or that they will continue to do so.
Test certificate A test certificate tells the purchaser that a company’s products have been tested and they have a certificate to prove it. But caution still needs to be taken with this information, as it provides only a snapshot of the product test.
Third-party certification Third-party certification tests and verifies a fire door’s design, performance, manufacturing process and quality assurance from manufacture to installation. The company is independently audited to ensure that all the management and manufacturing processes and systems are in place to ensure consistency with the product that was tested. The product is also subjected to regular scrutiny, with frequent testing taking place on standard products to ensure that the test wasn’t just a once-only event. In the BWF-CERTIFIRE Fire Door and Doorset Scheme, all manufacturers and companies that are licensed to cut an aperture and glaze doors are third-party accredited.
To ensure fire door safety, make sure you only specify or use third-party certificated and accredited doors, frames and components. Check that all components are compatible with the door’s test evidence. Check the certificate is relevant to the door and components that are fitted to the door. Never cut apertures on site.
Stick to the spec
Sadly, “value engineering” brings with it a whole set of new risks when it comes to fire safety. By compromising the original specification in any way, a fire door installation risks failure in the event of a fire. This is one of those areas where sticking to specification, and using only third-party certificated fire doors and components, will actually reduce risk and costs for the construction industry.
Minimum gap should be 3-4mm
There are four main areas where unwary construction managers and their clients may be most vulnerable:
Non-compliance with Building Regulation 38
Not all fire doors satisfy the Building Regulations in the way they might have done in the past. Where a building is erected or extended, or has undergone a material change of use, and the RRO applies to that building or extension, Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations now requires that a package of fire safety information – “as built” information that records the fire safety design of the building or extension – must be assembled and given to the person responsible for the premises.
The fire safety information provided should include all fire safety design measures in appropriate detail and with sufficient accuracy to assist the responsible person to operate and maintain the building safely. Where a fire safety strategy or a preliminary fire risk assessment has been prepared, these should also be included.
The exact amount of information and level of detail necessary will vary depending on the nature and complexity of the building’s design. Appendix G of Approved Document B, Volume 2, 2006 edition (with 2007 and 2010 amendments) provides a guide for the type of information that should be provided which will depend on the complexity of the building. This information includes, among other details, the locations of:
- Escape routes;
- Compartmentation and separation;
- Fire doors, self-closing doors and other doors with relevant hardware such as panic locks;
- Specifications of any fire safety equipment, in particular routine maintenance schedules;
- Any assumptions in the design of fire safety arrangements regarding building management.
Non-compliance with the RRO
Everyone involved in the life of a fire door, from its specification to maintaining it in use, is responsible for that product and its role in protecting property and saving lives. But increasingly it is the client, the building owner, who is receiving punitive fines and even jail terms for non-compliance with the RRO. Installing third-party certificated products, and then ensuring regular maintenance checks by a qualified fire door inspector, is the simplest way to comply with the RRO. Fortunately, the UK has Europe’s first fire door inspection scheme, FDIS, which can put you in touch with inspectors near you.
Lack of adequate insurance protection
Fire losses in the UK now run to £3.4m per day. Unsurprisingly, there is increasing scrutiny on building elements such as fire doors by insurers, brokers, surveyors and loss adjustors. Leading insurers follow
the advice of fire risk experts at RISCAuthority who now require all fire protection products to be third-party certificated and installed by adequately trained specialist installers. Clients are well advised to follow this advice too, to ensure adequate insurance protection and more affordable premiums.
Insufficient protection for life or property
Diligent fire door manufacturers work hard to design and test their products to ensure they perform in a specific way during a fire. Key to this point is that a fire door is not simply the door itself, but includes the associated ironmongery, windows, frame and seals. Any small change to any single component within this setup will impact upon the door’s performance. Attempt to save costs by fitting a fire door to an unspecified frame or to replace the ironmongery, for example, and the fire door will no longer be either compliant or fit-for-purpose.
John Fletcher is manager of the BWF-CERTIFIRE Fire Door and Doorset Scheme tel: 0844 209 2610 firstname.lastname@example.org
Fire doors and the Building Regulations
Approved Part B — Fire safety
Part B of the Building Regulations in England and Wales covers fire safety. The latest revision came into effect in April 2007 and is divided into two sections, differentiating between domestic and non-domestic buildings. Flats and apartments are now considered as non-domestic buildings. The Building Standards (Scotland) Technical Handbook takes a similar approach. In Northern Ireland, these issues are covered by Building Regulations Part E.
Part B identifies minimum fire resistance periods for various elements of construction, including fire doors. In a compartment wall that separates buildings, the fire door must match the fire resistance period of the wall containing the door with a minimum period of 60 minutes. In all other situations, a 30-minute fire door (FD30) is allowed. Part B also identifies the use of 20-minute fire doors (FD20) in some circumstances.
However, the BWF-CERTIFIRE Scheme strongly recommends that any fire door should be designed to last a minimum of 30 minutes, so FD20 is no longer manufactured by its member companies.
Approved Document E — Sound resistance
This document explains the minimum sound resistance performance recommended for buildings of multiple occupancy. Where a door separates the occupants of a building, for example the front door of an apartment, the door must maintain the sound performance requirements. Sound performance of a fire door is generally based on the weight, with higher density materials giving more resistance to sound. Acoustic seals may be required on a fire door, including at the threshold.
Approved Document F — Ventilation
In domestic buildings, a ventilation gap totalling 7,600mm² is recommended at the threshold of the door, to allow air movement throughout the building. This measurement is taken from the highest finished floor covering to the bottom edge of the door. For a 762mm wide door, this represents a 10 mm gap, (reducing to 8mm for a 926mm wide door). This can be achieved by making an undercut of 10mm above the fitted floor finish. The gap is likely to be around 3mm for smoke control doors (denoted with an “S” suffix). For non-domestic buildings, the ventilation requirements are likely to be the responsibility of the heating and ventilation designer. However, it is always very important to check the threshold gap details in the manufacturer’s instructions.
Approved Document L — Conservation of fuel and power
Where a fire door divides a heated and unheated area,
it will be required to provide a thermal performance (energy efficiency) that will control the heat leakage. Examples of this are flats with doors leading to common corridors, integral garages or external doors.
Approved Document M — Access to and use of buildings
This document introduces a number of recommendations to improve access to and movement through buildings for disabled persons, including minimum door widths, the use of visual contrasts between doors and their surroundings, minimum opening forces and the provision of vision panels.
Approved Document N — Glazing safety
Safety glass is required in a fire door when located under 1,500mm from floor level or if the smaller dimension of the glazing area is greater than 250mm. This applies to both domestic and non-domestic buildings.
With thanks to Construction Manager. Visit their excellent website at www.construction-manager.co.uk.