Assistant Editor, Informa

November 2, 2022


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‘Something as simple as closing a fire door can save your life’ – In conversation with Helen Hewitt from the BWF

IFSEC Global sat down with Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) for Fire Door Safety Week, to discuss the importance of awareness and education on fire doors.

IFSEC Global (IG): Hi Helen, for readers who may not know, what is the British Woodworking Federation?

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation

Helen Hewitt (HH): The BWF is a trade association for the woodworking and joinery manufacturing industry in the UK. We have over 500 members which are made up from manufacturers, distributors, installers of timber and all forms of architectural joinery including shop fitting, timber frame buildings and engineered timber components, as well as suppliers to the industry.

Our focus is about promoting the use of timber products – the advantages of wood and timber, the advantages of using timber-based products in buildings and the built environment, helping our members achieve more around the themes of health and sustainability and being productive in ways of working as well. As a trade association we have lots of different strands – we work on behalf of the manufacturers but also look at the skills agenda for our sector and work with the government to ensure that the messages for the use of timber in construction remains high on their agenda.

We’re a big community of members and we like to bring our individuals and companies together within the industry to share problems and experiences and find solutions together.

IG: Why has the BWF run the Fire Door Safety Week campaign every year?

HH: There’s a variety of reasons. Starting the campaign in 2013, it exists to address ongoing misunderstanding and the lack of awareness of the role that fire doors play to keep us safe. It’s mainly about making the general public aware of the critical role that fire doors perform.

By keeping your fire door closed and having a fire door that’s maintained and manufactured correctly can be a matter of life and death.

We run the campaign to also educate individuals and building owners to know what they are looking for in a fire door, for example it might be faulty, not maintained correctly or just neglected. If a fire door is neglected and lives are unnecessarily lost because of this then that’s a deep concern for us, our manufacturers, and members as a whole.

We have a huge range of partners and stakeholders who support and help us promote the campaign and we are always delighted to see that the NFCC are one of our campaigns’ biggest supporters who help push the important message out.

IG: What would you say are some of the main issues with fire doors at the moment?

HH: The biggest issue is the lack of understanding of fire doors and therefore it’s about giving people the tools and education to understand issues themselves and report them. We have a five-step check for fire doors on our website which is a free, simple and downloadable guide to see if a fire door is compliant and explains how to look out for issues such as gaps in your fire door – as this is where smoke can seep through if a gap is too large. Smoke is the biggest killer, so having a fire door installed correctly is key to keeping us safe in our home, work and social environments.

We know that in many work environments, some people would walk past fire doors that are propped open, and alarmingly we see doors that are propped open by a chair or a fire extinguisher! If in that moment there’s a fire, the opened door isn’t doing its role of stopping the spread of fire and smoke – the seal is effectively broken in the building, allowing smoke and fire to spread, a fire door only works if it is closed.

Educating people that fire doors have been manufactured to hold back fire and smoke for a minimum of 30 minutes, thus allowing us to escape safely, is a key message of the campaign. 30 minutes or more also allows firefighters critical time to enter a building, check the source of the fire and if there are any occupants still in the building – we all need effective evacuation plans, so it’s a full circle of keeping us all safe in our environments and a fire door has a key role to play.

It’s also understanding whether or not a fire door has been inspected and maintained properly as well – fire doors should be on a regular inspection program, if it’s not, you should be asking the reasons why. Recent research from the BWF Fire Door Alliance has clearly highlighted the lack of maintenance and proper care taken over fire doors. This allows for potentially dangerous maintenance issues to go unnoticed, putting lives at risk. Regular fire door inspections to ensure maintenance needs are quickly and effectively addressed is part of an ongoing challenge within the fire door profession.

IG: What message do you have for the fire industry?

HH: For building owners, managers, occupants, or construction professionals – awareness of fire safety is really important. It’s understanding what a fire door should do, how it should perform, and also knowing the evacuation escape routes and plans.

Regular and robust inspection programmes are essential. From our recent research – the BWF Fire Door Alliance findings highlighted that nearly a fifth of those responsible for the specification, installation and maintenance of fire doors (19%) inspect their fire doors twice a year, 14% inspect annually, while 3% only inspect their fire doors when an issue has been reported. If you think of a high traffic building such as a school or hospital where people are using fire doors all the time, they should be inspecting their fire doors more regularly – which is why inspection and the maintenance schedule is so important.

We’ve seen positive signs that awareness and knowledge is increasing in the public, but also within the building and construction sector, especially since the Grenfell tragedy which has brought fire safety right to the forefront. However, there is always room for improvement and we’re not there yet. What we want to continue to do is provide people with the power to question and report if a fire door is propped open or damaged.

This week is all about generating awareness. Something as simple as closing a fire door can save your life. It really is that simple.


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