Campaigns Environment, Safety and Standards RPI

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

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

In the three months since the Grenfell Tower tragedy 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 mobilising members to take the time to check their doors , to potentially avoid a similar disaster.

Time For Change is the banner for this year’s Fire Door Safety Week, following the fatal blaze at Grenfell Tower that cost so many their lives.

It seems as though a new scandal was uncovered every day in the weeks following the tragedy and now organisers of the annual awareness week say it is not enough for ‘lessons to be learned’ – the time for action is now.

This is not just an issue for the social sector. 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.

This is an issue that needs to be tackled now, which is why the RLA is now asking its members to use the resources offered by the organisers’ Fire Door Safety Week website to make sure their tenants are safe.

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.

Hannah Mansell, Fire Door Safety Week spokeswoman said:“We have been running the awareness campaign for the last five 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.

“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.

“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.

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

The 2017 campaign is specifically targeting landlords and anyone living in private rented housing – in particular HMO landlords, as well as households living in high-rise flats and shared accommodation such as care homes or hospitals.

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.”

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 be directly 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 (providing 30minute protection), FD60 (60 minute protection) or higher.

There is usually a certification mark (a labelorplug)ontopofthedoorifitisa 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 outlineD in the panel today), but if you have legal responsibil- ity 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 Certifi- cated 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.

Practical tips for landlords

Regular Inspection
  • If you have had a Fire Risk Assessment, make sure doors were covered and the assessor is knowledgeable in this  area
  • When you do your regular check, identify and include the fire doors, do the five step fire door safety check 
  • If in doubt bring in a professional to carry out a survey – find them on the fire door inspection scheme website at www.fdis.co.uk
How to buy good quality fire doors
  • You’ll find lots of advice on specifying and buying high quality, third-party certificated fire doors and doorsets from the BWF-CERTIFIRE Scheme knowledge centre.
  • Always use a reputable and competent supplier – many people claim to make fire doors, but only some have got a properly tested product that is proved to work in a fire.
  • Ask whether the product has been fire tested and demand to see the documentation that proves it (eg fire certificate or label).
  • It’s not just the door itself that matters. The frame and ironmongery is just as important – they all work together. Only buy exact compatible hardware and components. Always ask for installation instructions and follow them to the letter.
  • Saving a few quid on fire doors isn’t worth it. Consider the cost of damage and loss of life if a fire breaks out. Stick to the specification at all times.
Requirements to consider when specifying fire doors
  • All rooms should have fire doors which have a self-closing mechanism.
  • All fire doors must be durable and combine fire protection with accessibility.
How to install a fire door properly
  • Fire doors are not ordinary doors. They’re a carefully engineered fire safety device. They must be fitted correctly by a competent installer – if you employ people who install fire doors, make sure they know what they’re doing.
  • Use technical checklist here to check the installation

Fire safety – a thousand fire doors missing from London’s Chalcots Estate

Hundreds of people were evacuated from London tower blocks in the wake of Grenfell Tower tragedy as a result of faulty fire doors.

According to The Guardian, fire safety experts told Camden Council that apartment doors in Taplow Tower, a 23-storey tower block on the Chalcots estate in Swiss Cottage, were not sufficiently fire resistant and should be replaced back in 2012.

The 2012 fire risk assessment concluded the doors would not provide residents with 30 minutes fire separation and recommended “all apartment doors are replaced”.

Residents were evacuated fom the block, and three neighbouring buildings in June this year after London Fire brigade raised multiple fire safety concerns, claiming: “fire doors in the building are not working as they should, meaning that in the event of a fire it could spread to other parts of the building”.

Other issues raised included concerns over cladding and insulation around gas pipes.

Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, told parliament: “There were problems with gas pipe insulation, there were stairways that were not accessible, there were breaches of internal walls and most astonishingly there were hundreds, literally hundreds, of fire doors missing.

“The estimate by Camden Council itself is they need at least 1,000 fire doors because they were missing from those five blocks.

“Clearly something has gone wrong there, drastically wrong, but it’s an example when these issues need to be looked at very carefully, this is happening in this day and age in our country.”

Camden Council said the issue occurred after residents replaced their front doors over time with non-fire rated doors and explained it had bulk ordered 1,000 fire doors to replace them.

For more information and guidance

For more guidance, the RLA offer several fire safety courses for landlords. The online course Foundation Fire Safety aims to give landlords a basic overview of fire safety legislation and conducting fire risk assessments.

Complete Fire Safety is a classroom course designed to give landlords a complete guide to relevant fire safety legislation and more besides.

 

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Communications Manager for the RLA and 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.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.