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A matter of life and death: Why you must check your fire doors

It is now just over a year since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and since the disaster fire safety has never been far from the headlines. This week is Fire Door Safety Week and to coincide with this year’s campaign the RLA is reminding members of their obligations. In this article, first published in the RLA’s members’ magazine Residential Property Investor, we look at what you need to do to keep your tenants safe.

Shutting the door on fire and smoke is the banner for this year’s Fire Door Safety Week.

Run by the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) – the trade association for the woodworking and joinery manufacturing industry in the UK – and supported by the government, fire services and industry bodies, the aim of  the campaign is to stop the legacy of neglect and promote awareness of the critical importance of fire doors.

Shockingly the latest figures(from 2015) show that majority of all fines for issues regarding fire doors were issued to landlords of HMOs, a total of 58% costing a total of £454,786.

Hannah Mansell, Fire Door Safety Week spokeswoman said: “We have been running the awareness campaign for the last six years, as we felt their importance just wasn’t on people’s radar.

“Fire doors have several purposes, they isolate fires and toxic gas in one place and allow firefighters to enter a building safely.

“We concentrated on getting resources out to tenants, stakeholders and responsible people and getting the industry to adopt best practice and the importance of inspections and maintenance and it built from there.

“You can have great fire doors, but they must be properly installed and maintained.

“This is really important. These doors are in constant use so there is a high level of wear and tear.

Transparency

“We also campaign for greater transparency.

“We found we were telling people to report any faults to the responsible person for the building, but found they didn’t know who this was – often it seemed no-one knew who this was.

“We want more thorough fire risk assessments and the certification of fire doors – to make sure they meet the required standards as well as a complete review of building regulations.

“We have also linked up with Julian Rosser who lost his daughter Sophie in a fire in an apartment block in London’s Docklands, where there was a faulty fire door (see panel).

“People think they can cut corners, that it doesn’t matter, but this tragedy really brings the message home – these doors really can be the difference between life and death.


Sophie Rosser: An avoidable tragedy

Sophie Rosser was just 23 years old when she died in a smoke-filled hallway as a result of a faulty fire door.

The Executive PA was returning to the fifth floor flat she shared with her fiancé Oscar Silva in London’s Docklands after a party in August 2012 when she saw the building on fire. She rushed inside to warn him, but collapsed in the smoke and later died in hospital.

Mr Silva had escaped to a balcony and was rescued by fire crews.

Coroner Mary Hassell told the inquest in 2014 that Sophie’s death could have been avoided if a self-closing fire door had not become stuck on a warped piece of flooring, preventing it from closing.

Since then Sophie’s father Julian has been working with the organisers of fire door safety week to promote the campaign for clearer rules on fire safety responsibility.

Speaking during Fire Door Safety Week in 2014 he said the family was frustrated that the coroner was not able to identify where the blame for poor building maintenance lay – with the owner, the property management company, or fire risk assessors.

He said: “I want changes in the law to make it clear who’s responsible for fire safety.

“Nobody was blamed because the coroner wasn’t sure who the responsible person was. We would have hoped as a family that the coroner would have cleared the way for corporate manslaughter charges to be brought against the companies involved.

“The problem with the law at the moment is that it does not make any single entity responsible for the regular inspection and maintenance of fire doors in communal areas so that everybody can pass the buck as happened in Sophie’s case.

“The coroner recorded in her comments that had the door in question been closed it could have made a vital difference.”


I am a landlord – what am I responsible for?

Landlords have a responsibility under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) to ensure that their properties and tenants are safe.

The “responsible person” has a legal responsibility under the FSO and can be criminally prosecuted if they do not fulfil their duties.

The responsibility extends to the requirement for a fire risk assessment in all non-domestic buildings, including the common parts of flats and HMOs.

The state of fire doors falls within this and is given specific reference in the FSO.

Whilst this legislation has been in place for a number of years, the British Woodworking Federation says it continues to hear from landlords who do not understand their responsibilities, as well as tenants who are concerned about their fire doors, regular prosecutions and sadly deaths that can directly be associated with bad fire door management.

How does a fire door work?

A fire door ensures that should a fire break out, it can be contained in a “compartment”.

This keeps the fire and smoke trapped for a defined period, allowing time for people to get out and makes the fire easier to tackle. It can’t do this if damaged or propped open.

How to identify a fire door

Signs that might indicate a fire door include things like a blue ‘Fire Door’ or ‘Keep Closed’ sign, door closers, intumescent or smoke seals around the edge of the door or the frame.

In blocks of flats, the external door to a flat invariably should be a fire door, this protects the common areas from spread of flame and smoke.

Other locations will depend on the risk assessment and fire plan of the buildings, internal doors could well be fire doors depending on the size of the apartment and distance from the flat entrance door.

You can find out more in Approved Document B Volumes 1 (for houses) and 2 Part B (for flats) of the building regulations.

All fire doors are fire rated. Some are FD30 (30 minute protection), FD60 (60 minute protection) or higher.

There is usually a certification mark (a label or plug) on top of the door if it is a Fire Door – you can find out more in the BWF Best Practice Guide at rla.org.uk/rpi-bwf

How to inspect and maintain a fire door


Fire doors should be checked regularly, and the more they’re used the more frequently they should be checked.

Anyone can spot a dodgy fire door (do the 5 Step Check which can be foundhere), but if you have legal responsibility for fire safety you should call in a professional.

For professional advice on meeting your responsibilities under the Fire Safety Order, always use a FDIS certificated inspector. You can find your local inspector by visiting www.fdis.co.uk/ inspector

Create a maintenance checklist and schedule, and check all doors in your building and only ever replace damaged components with like-for-like. Check the fire certificate. A trained person should be responsible for this maintenance work.

Find out more:
  • Fire safety is one of the top searches on the RLA website. The association has now pulled together all its fire safety guides and interactive resources for PRS landlords to create a comprehensive fire safety hub within its webpages.
  • The new and updated fire safety advice pages for residential landlords can be found here.
  • In addition to the resources on the website, the RLA is now offering online and classroom fire safety training courses, with Complete Fire Safety courses running in London, Manchester and Leeds next month.

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Communications Manager for the RLA and award-winning Editor of RPI magazine. With 16 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for producing articles for our Campaigns and News Centre, the weekly E-News newsletter and editorial content for our media partners.

She issues press releases promoting the work of the RLA and its policies and campaigns to the regional and national media and works alongside the marketing team on the association’s social media channels to build support for the RLA and its work.

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