The drive to reduce cost must not be allowed to compromise the safety performance of a building, says Brian Sofley.
02 September 2019 | Brian Sofley
Fire Door Safety Week (23-29 September) serves as a timely reminder that poor installation and maintenance of fire safety products can have devastating consequences.
Where the government wants reform
After the Grenfell Tower fire, Dame Judith Hackitt published the results of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, calling upon the government to "develop an implementation plan that will provide a coherent approach to delivering the recommendations".
The response came from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in the form of its Building a Safer Future: an Implementation Plan, which sets out a statement of intent from the government for construction and manufacturing industries.
The implementation plan aims to "work with procurement professionals across the public and private sectors to develop standards and disseminate procurement best practice that prioritises safety outcomes."
Its comprehensive approach to fire safety products will guarantee that thorough third-party certification, standards and safety requirements are integral, not just at the manufacturing stage, but during installation, inspection and ongoing maintenance.
How the industry can drive up standards
Unfortunately, we live in an age where there is a constant need to drive down costs and deliver services quicker than ever before. As a result, the building industry as a whole has become disjointed.
But when it comes to safety equipment, failure can be deadly. Specifications should be fit for purpose, and equipment should be implemented correctly when a building is designed, built and maintained.
So fire safety needs proper maintenance standards and checks throughout the life cycle of the product and building. This is best addressed through:
- Regular inspection - we recommend yearly recertification of fire doors in service (similar to motor vehicle MOT checks);
- Maintenance; and
- Replacement of products.
But the success of this relies on individuals being well-trained. As a critical component in the overall safety of a building, training should be up to standard and regulated, so skills can be certified and assessed.
Fire doors and frames should always be installed by formally trained installation engineers and supported with third-party accreditation.
Compromising on the specification can affect the operational safety of a building, but without a system to ensure compliance, it's too easy to deviate from the recommended specification.
Cost versus safety: How to get your point across
More education is needed on the cost-savings versus the safety impact and overall lifetime consequences of substituting products.
The implementation plan has identified the need to "work with industry to develop minimum standards for third-party certification schemes" and that these schemes should cover "manufacturing, installation and inspection of products"
Third-party certification is essential, as it will contribute toward consistent legislative powers covering construction products and its ongoing enforcement.
Fire Safety products aftercare advice
- General wear and tear or use and abuse resulting in significant damage to doors, frames and hardware (in particular door closers);
- Door closer settings not maintained to enable door leaves to close properly;
- Broken fire glass;
- For door frames manufactured from MDF materials, the regular use results in hinge screws no longer gripping and therefore causing door leaf movement, misalignment and inability to close; and
- Hardware and other items being replaced/added/removed without consideration to the impact on fire compliancy.
- Regular, mandatory, product-specific inspections - fire door inspections by trained fire door experts, rather than a general inspection as part of building fire risk assessment;
- Mandatory maintenance carried out by trained maintenance engineers and not caretakers/local 'handy-man'; and
- Yearly recertification of fire doors in service (similar to validation of roadworthiness of motor vehicles through MOT checks).
Brian Sofley is managing director of ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions UK & Ireland- Door Group