An epidemic of fire door failings

Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
October 18, 2019

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A litany of fire door failures in both residential and commercial properties have been documented by a leading buildings surveyor.

To mark the recent Fire Door Safety Week, two surveyors from Trident Building Consultancy catalogued the most common fire door defects encountered during post-Grenfell remediation projects where cladding was replaced and fire risk assessments updated.

One project featuring multiple residential tower blocks sampled seven fire doors per block. Architraves were removed so the surveyor could assess detailing between the door frame and structural opening.

The intrusive survey found that the door frame installations did not measure up against requirements of fire test evidence and wouldn’t provide the required period of fire resistance. All fire doors and frames consequently had to be replaced.

“Every single one of the sample fire doors we inspected was non-compliant.” Christian Watkins, Trident

“It was shocking to see that every single one of the sample fire doors we inspected was non-compliant,” said Christian Watkins, an assistant building surveyor at Trident who worked on the project. “Once the architrave was removed, we could see the back of the door frame was packed with pink foam.

“This wasn’t going to act as any sort of barrier and clearly wasn’t in accordance with the test evidence for the fire doors. These buildings were only refurbished in 2015.”

Watkins and Trident executive director Matt Clare also frequently noted the following problems:

  • Lack of maintenance records
  • Missing or painted intumescent seals, which compromises fire resistance
  • Fanlight windows above doors being replaced with plywood, which doesn’t offer the fire resistance needed
  • Integrated ventilation grills without any fire resisting properties
  • Gaps between the door and the door frame are often excessive
  • Missing or incorrect fire escape signage
  • Locked fire doors
  • Additional untested ironmongery installations
  • Door closers not performing as intended

Matt Clare, one of the specialist advisers on the Steering Group on Competence for Building a Safer Future and its working group looking at the skills and training requirements for fire risk assessments, said:

“Design and build is partly to blame. It is absolutely clear to me that such contracts and procurement routes, where risk in construction contracts is being shifted onto the contractors, has driven the wrong behaviours when it comes to building safety.

Clerk of works

“I think that the loss of the clerk of works from construction is another factor. There are things being done that you would never have got away with in a traditionally procured contract because the clerk of works would have told you to take it down and do it again. That doesn’t happen anymore.

“But there’s also an overall decline in standards of workmanship and care and pride when it comes to our buildings. And that’s the very pernicious attitude we need to change fastest, across all trades and professions.”

Trident has called for clerks of works to be reinstated as the norm. It referenced one of its recent projects – a new build care home in Scarborough – and praised how the clerk of works on that site oversaw the installation of fire doors.

Christian Watkins said: “I inspected the development during the plastering stage when the fire doors were also being installed. It was interesting to note that the carpenters were fitting the doors extremely tight into the frame. This was to allow for the timber shrinkage that occurs when heating is applied to the building and the plaster finishes dry out.

“Once the moisture levels had stabilised, final adjustments were made to the doors. This approach ensured that gaps between the door, frame and threshold didn’t shrink and then exceed the maximum acceptable standards. I’ve never seen that method being used before and it prevented anyone having to go back and rectify the doors post-build.”

In addition to having a clerk of works on new build projects, Trident has given its strongest support to the idea of a compulsory competency register for fire door installers, in line with the recommendations in the Raising the Bar report.

Trident recommends to all its clients that only complete fire door sets are specified, tested through a third-party certification scheme such as BWF-CERTIFIRE, which provides full traceability.

Matt Clare said: “It is our responsibility both as property owners and construction professionals to ensure that we are prioritising fire safety throughout a building’s life. Properly specified, fitted and maintained fire doors are a fundamental part of this.”

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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Michael Floyd
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Michael Floyd

Do not see why this is so shocking. I rarely have found any fire door to pass every stage of the BWF full inspection procedure EVER in residential premises, but slightly more often in commercial. A few modular design hotels have scored well. Until some carpenters or maintenance firms are taken to task as not being ‘competent’ under the Fire Safety Order, few will realize this is such an important issue.

Eric
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Eric

I agree 100%. I label doors/frames and inspect first, finding the same condition. It’s a sad affair that fire doors aren’t taken more seriously.

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