FDSW Linkedin Closing Graphic.jpg

Looking forward to Fire Door Safety Week 2021

As this year’s Fire Door Safety Week draws to a close, we thought we’d take this opportunity both to take stock and to look forward to FDSW 2021. How might things be different next year and how could this affect you?

First line of defence
The fundamental requirements of a fire door will stay the same. Fire doors will continue to be the first line of defence against fire and smoke, containing their spread while buildings are evacuated.

To resist smoke and fire for a specified time – whether that’s a minimum of 20 or 120 minutes – the door blank at the core of a fire door must be manufactured to the highest standards, using consistent production techniques. That’s not going to change either, but hopefully we’ll see fewer sub-standard fire doors in circulation in a year’s time.

Fire door performance
Introduced to the UK market some 20 years ago, today’s fire door blanks are produced to exact specifications on tightly controlled production lines. Human error has effectively been engineered out of the door manufacture process. Not so in India and some other markets, where stile and rail doors are far more commonplace and engineered blanks seen as innovative.

As we heard in Monday’s webinar, provided they’re manufactured to a high standard and are durable enough to withstand daily use – not just for the first few years but throughout their entire service life – fire doorsets and door assemblies should provide the level of protection they’re meant to.

We say ‘should’ rather than ‘will’ because there are lots of other factors, besides the actual door blank, that impact performance.

System for success
As Tuesday’s webinar showed, fire door blanks and cores are only one part of the ‘system of components’ that make up fit-for-purpose fire doorsets and door assemblies. Yes, the door blank is the workhorse but it works in concert with other components, including essential hardware like door closers, locks and hinges, as well as seals, both between the door leaf and frame, and within the lock and hinges.

Again, that’s not going to change but if our industry is to improve fire safety, there needs to be increased awareness of the fact there’s only one way to see how a system of components will perform as a unit. And that’s to test them together, not individually. What’s more, if you vary that system of components in any way, there’s no guarantee the door assembly or doorset will perform to the same level.

Maintaining integrity
Having the right system of components – all manufactured to a high standard – is important. But as Wednesday’s webinar explained, even the best products in the world can fail if they’re not installed and maintained correctly. It’s here we’re likely to see significant differences come FDSW 2021.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire and subsequent Building a Safer Future review, the UK Government is placing more of an emphasis on ongoing maintenance. It’s not hard to see why.

Manufacturing is already tightly controlled thanks to factors like good quality fire door component supply, as well as quality management systems like ISO 9001 and third-party certification, both of which ensure the delivery of consistent quality fire doors. Similarly, when it comes to installation, there’s the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) and other certification schemes, and door installs are signed off by a qualified person. It’s what happens at the next link in the supply chain – ongoing maintenance – that gives greater cause for concern.

Tampering with something as important as a door closer is an obvious example, but all it takes to prejudice the integrity of a fire door is for someone to replace an existing letterplate, door viewer or lock with hardware of a different spec. These ‘illegal interventions’, as we call them, have the potential to completely undermine fire door performance, highlighting the critical need for the regular maintenance of fire doors throughout their life.  

This is why the government wants to make landlords – be they a council, housing association or private individual – responsible for ensuring that fire doors continue to remain compliant over time, involving them in the shared responsibility for building safety. Simply signing off fire doors at the initial inspection stage will no longer be good enough. Instead, regular inspections will be required to ensure seals are in place, doors open and shut properly, closing devices are still fitted, and so on.

Cars over a certain age need to have an MOT to ensure they remain roadworthy. Why shouldn’t fire doors be the same!

Because surely that’s the biggest change we all want to see by next year’s FDSW – a reduction in the terrible human and economic costs of building fires, so there’s no repeat of 2017’s Grenfell Tower disaster or other more recent tragedies in New Delhi.

At the heart of fire strategy
When they work properly, fire doors play a crucial part in the fire strategy of a building, as Thursday’s webinar with fire engineer Adrian Brown demonstrated. Along with other passive fire protection measures, like fire-resistance rated walls and floors, fire doors help to slow or stop the spread of fire and smoke between rooms and floors by compartmentalising a building, buying occupants valuable time for evacuation. Fire doors also protect crucial means of escape routes, as well as protecting the firefighters who tackle the blaze.

But fire doors will only do this if they’re specified, manufactured, installed and maintained correctly. Remember the old joke: ‘When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar.’ Well, unfortunately, there are many more answers to the question: ‘When is a fire door not a fire door’? When it’s wedged open, for example. Or specified, manufactured, installed or maintained incorrectly in any one of a hundred different ways.

It’s no laughing matter. Which is why, along with other improvements, the government is calling for a more joined-up approach to regulatory compliance, with all the partners in the supply chain involved in the ‘golden thread’ and taking accountability for the delivery of a quality product.

The way ahead
What’s needed is an effective way of ensuring high standards are consistently delivered across the entire fire door supply chain – a means of verifying everything from the quality of the door blanks and cores supplied, and the fabrication of the door, to the installation and ongoing maintenance of the finished doorset or door assembly – improving fire safety and providing much-needed peace of mind.

Complex and wide-ranging though this may be, it’s a solution we’re confident will be delivered before next year’s Fire Door Safety Week. How can we be so sure? Watch this space…