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Claire is Director of Clarity Safety Solutions Ltd., an Oban-based health and safety consultancy. She has more than 17 years of health and safety experience advising organisations and is a Chartered Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, an OSHCR registered consultant, and an IFE registered life safety assessor. Since attempting to leave the rat race in 2008, and moving to the West Coast of Scotland, Claire has written hundreds of articles, reports, policies, papers, newsletters, and training courses. Nevertheless, she continues to help clients directly with their health, safety, and fire safety arrangements both within the UK and abroad.
September 3, 2013


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Hold-Open Door Closers & Devices: Uses & Limitations

The scenario is all too familiar: fire doors wedged open, propped open with fire extinguishers and bricks, or even fitted with permanent hooks to hold them open.

As we’ve reported recently, fire doors can be less than perfect in providing fire separation, but to have any chance at all of functioning as intended, they need to be shut at the time of the fire.

Although proper fire separation is often essential to the evacuation strategy of a building, there’s no doubt that fire doors often get in the way of everyday activities. A closed door can change the ambience of a building, or even create hazards to those using it — e.g., to the disabled, where staff need to carry things through, or if the door is in a busy thoroughfare. Doors that are fitted with door closers are also more likely to be damaged where trolleys regularly pass through.

So surely then, the solution is to fit “hold-open devices” whenever there’s a fire door in an inconvenient location? These give free passage in normal conditions and consist of electro-magnetic and sound-activated equipment holding the door in the open position. These may be an attachment to the door or integrated into the door closer itself. The devices are designed to release if the fire alarm sounds, allowing the door to close on the power of the self-closing device.

At the lowest level of intervention, there are simple products available, which delay the closing of a door to allow someone more time to pass through. These “delayed-action closers” can be separate wall mounted devices or can be incorporated into the overhead closing device.


The problem with these solutions is that they introduce scope for failure, e.g., the door may not be released, or, if released, the door may not fit within the frame (and this won’t have been noticed unless the door is closed regularly). Other practical problems include:

  • Delayed-action closers can create other safety hazards where the delay is too long, and the door is then released onto an unsuspecting pedestrian using the door shortly after activation (some last up to a minute, depending on how they’ve been set up).
  • A free-swing controlled door closer, which has an electromagnetic device within the spring mechanism, may not be suitable where draughts are a problem.
  • The holding power and the manual release force must be correct for the size of door to which the mechanisms are to be fitted, so it’s sensible to seek technical advice before choosing a product.
  • Sound activated devices may be falsely triggered — e.g,. by a vacuum cleaner — and also need frequent changes of batteries.
  • If a door is held open for prolonged periods there’s a risk of distortion, particularly where the closing device and the hold-open device are at opposite ends, e.g., a floor-mounted hold-open device with a top-mounted closer.

Because of the potential problems it’s therefore generally accepted good practice not to leave doors on hold-open devices endlessly. Closing at night if practicable, is advised. It should also be noted that accidents have occurred where doors have been released remotely, closing without warning on building users. So remote release should only be used in certain low risk situations — meaning that there’s an extra time commitment in closing them each day.

Official door hold-open device advice

Communities and local government guidance on fire risk assessment places restrictions on the use of automatic door hold-open/release devices to the effect that these may only be fitted, “where there is an automatic fire detection and warning system incorporating smoke detectors, that is designed to protect the escape routes in the building.” The arrangements must usually release the door and allow it to close in the event of:

  • A smoke detector being activated
  • A manual break glass alarm call point being struck (or any other manual activation of the alarm)
  • Any failure of the fire detection and alarm system
  • Any electrical power failure

Those who have absorbed the implications of the above list will realize that there are a number of circumstances that don’t meet these criteria, including the use of standalone, sound-activated door stops. These are catered for separately in the guidance, which states, “Other devices, including self-contained devices which perform a similar function, that are not connected directly to a fire alarm system… may be acceptable where a site specific risk assessment can show that they are appropriate. Such devices are unlikely to be suitable for use on doors protecting single stairways or other critical means of escape.”


The practical advantages of using hold-open devices generally outweigh the cost of installing them, the cost being usually between GB pound 100 and a few hundred pounds per door. Costs are lower if the equipment is installed during building construction. The alternative is often the problem of building users breaching fire safety rules (and indeed the law) by wedging the doors open.

Related posts:

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September 3, 2013 3:10 pm

thank you, interesting info… I think new technology gives us a new fighting chance in case of fire… or increase survival rate… but yes it does have it limitation…

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
September 4, 2013 8:50 am
Reply to  batye

This isn’t new technology necessary, just a little guide to when you can and can’t use the closers.

September 4, 2013 12:29 pm
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

yes, Rob agree:) but it rewamped/updated with new options… as prices for micro/mini elect. parts/sensors go down…