Fire door specification is one of the most crucial decisions landlords and housing providers can make, with the technology forming an essential part of a building’s passive fire protection system. Jack Wooler spoke to Helen Hewitt of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) on the impact of the pandemic and the need for regulated third-party certification
One of the most pressing concerns for landlords and housing providers over fire door safety is effective inspection and maintenance. Fire doors are often situated in housing environments that are used frequently by tenants, and so are subjected to regular knocks and bumps that come with everyday use. But, a fire door can only perform in the event of a fire if it is correctly maintained. Regular inspections and maintenance, if needed, is therefore crucial to ensuring that fire doors are ready to hold back the spread of smoke and fire.
The COVID-19 pandemic however has negatively impacted on the ability of landlords, housing providers and local authorities to carry out these safety measures in the normal way, with a Fire Door Safety Week Freedom of Information (FOI) request in 2020 finding that 52% of responding UK local authorities reported delays to planned fire door maintenance and replacement in the first half of 2020. This number increased to 60% when inspection delays were also factored in.
To help tackle this burgeoning issue, Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), argues that a regulated regime of independent third-party certification of fire doors should be enshrined in law and as an organisation.
“At the BWF Fire Door Alliance we continue to champion the role of fire door third-party certification as the only way to ensure that a fire door performs as designed to hold back the spread of smoke and fire,” she says. “As such we will continue to lobby for third-party certification of fire doors to become mandated.”
What are fire doors, and how do they work?
Going back to basics, Helen explains that fire doors, or fire door assemblies, are part of a building’s passive fire protection system.
“In an everyday situation they often perform the same function as any other door, but in the event of a fire they are vital to holding back the spread of smoke and fire,” says Helen.
“This helps provide crucial time to allow building occupants to safely evacuate, and supports the fire services by helping to keep fire escape routes protected for them to enter the building.”
Fire doors work by holding back the spread of smoke and fire. By compartmentalising the fire, fire doors help keep the fire and smoke contained to allow building occupants to exit the building and the fire services to arrive.
Fire door assemblies consist of a series of components that must work together in the event of a fire to allow it to perform effectively. For example, fire doors incorporate intumescent strips, which are installed around the inside of the door frame or on the door itself. When the strips are exposed to heat, they expand to seal the gap between the door and frame to prevent fire and smoke travelling through any gaps.
The fire rating of a door will indicate how long it can resist fire or both fire and smoke for. A fire door assembly that has been tested to British Standards (BS 476: Part 22 or BS EN 1634-1) and will resist fire for a minimum of 30 minutes is referred to as FD30, while a door that can resist for a minimum of 60 minutes is FD60. In addition, a fire doorset that can resist both fire and smoke for at least 30 minutes is referred to as FD30S and at least 60 minutes is FD60S.
“Fire doors manufactured by BWF Fire Door Alliance members are audited regularly to make certain that they meet the required performance standard,” explains Helen.
“In fact, regular samples are taken from in excess of three million timber fire doors produced by BWF Fire Door Alliance members and are subjected to a furnace test to ensure they perform as stated.”
Fire door third-party certification provides independent evidence that a fire door is tested appropriately and produced to a consistent standard, offering crucial peace of mind to building owners and users that the fire door will perform as designed.
“At the BWF Fire Door Alliance,” she continues, “we believe the only way to ensure a fire door will hold back the spread of smoke and fire is through a robust third-party certification process.”
As such, for BWF Fire Door Alliance members third-party certification involves meeting strict criteria, including:
- Fire testing – Full fire door assemblies or fire doorsets manufactured by BWF Fire Door Alliance members are tested to BS 476: Part 22 or BS EN 1634-1 standards at a UKAS-accredited test facility.
- Manufacturing process audit – The fire door manufacturer or licensed processor is audited by a UKAS accredited certification organisation.
- Regular audits – The fire door is subjected to regular scrutiny to ensure that test data is not a one-off result.
What responsibilities do landlords and social housing providers have?
All landlords are required to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation for the entirety of a tenancy under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.
According to Helen, this means “making sure that the property is free of serious hazards, including exposure to uncontrolled fire and associated smoke through the use of fit-for-purpose fire doors.”
In addition to the Homes Act, there are a number of fire door regulations that may apply depending on whether the fire doors are installed within a new building or existing property. This includes the Building Regulations for new builds and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order: 2005 (RRO) for modifications to existing buildings. The Housing Act (2004) may also apply.
Fire doors are required in houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) as well as in high-rise buildings such as flats. These are often categorised as high-risk buildings and are therefore subject to rigorous regulation and checks in order to safeguard tenants’ lives. Fire doors can also be required in houses in certain cases, for example, if there’s an integral garage in a two-storey property, and within new build or renovated three-storey houses.
When selecting a fire door for any of these situations, “the most important factor to consider is its proof of performance,” says Helen.
“At the BWF Fire Door Alliance, we believe that only third-party certified fire doors can provide confidence and assurance that the fire door will perform as designed to hold back smoke and fire.”
Another vital factor for landlords and housing providers is correct installation: “A fire door that has been installed incorrectly or fitted with incompatible components will not perform as it’s designed and could put lives at risk.”
It’s therefore vital that only a competent and trained professional installs fire doors, and that the manufacturer’s instructions are followed to help save lives and maintain the door’s certification.
“If there’s ever any confusion over whether a fire door is needed, seek expert advice to ensure compliance with regulation and the safety of the building’s occupants,” she adds.
Fire door safety week
In response to “a legacy of fire door neglect,” and to raise awareness of the vital role fire doors play in protecting lives and property, Fire Door Safety Week was launched in 2013.
“As a broad awareness campaign, it aims to highlight the role of fire doors and specific fire door performance-related issues such as poor installation and maintenance,” explains Helen.
It also encourages building owners and users to take an active role in fire safety by checking the operation and condition of their fire doors, so that they can be repaired or replaced if needed.
By engaging and educating the general public, construction industry professionals and building owners, the campaign aims to help people understand the correct specification, supply, installation, operation, inspection and maintenance for fire doors.
“We want to improve fire door safety standards across the country so that lives are not unnecessarily lost due to fire door neglect,” Helen says.
“As part of this, we recently launched the BWF Fire Door Alliance ‘Be Certain, Be Certified’ campaign to highlight the importance of third-party certification of fire doors in improving fire safety standards across the UK. The campaign addresses a lack of understanding over what certification is and the role it plays in protecting lives.”
Calling for the adoption of third-party certification of fire doors throughout all UK buildings, ‘Be Certain, Be Certified’ offers guidance and resources to anyone responsible for specifying fire doors in a UK building.
Helen Hewitt is CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF)