The Secret Risk Assessor - October 2018
15 September 2018
This month the Secret Risk Assessor takes aim at fire doors and offers key advice to ensure your doors are compliant.
LONG-TERM readers of this column may well remember me using a previous edition to highlight my thoughts on risk assessors failing to undertake basic compartmentation checks by simply adding the sentence “this was a non-invasive survey” to their report. While tempting to regurgitate the same stuff I thought I would use this opportunity to discuss the routine fire door checks that should be undertaken by either the fire risk assessor or in house by suitably trained members of staff.
In the first instance, prior to offering advice, the fire risk assessor should make an actual assessment on where fire doors are required within the building, where fire doors have been fitted and they are not required, or where a non-fire door has had a blue sticker affixed onto it to suggest it is a fire door when it is not.
I have had the dubious pleasure of reading a countless number of written reports where the person who completed the fire risk assessment has recommended some remedial actions to doors that are not, and do not need to be fire doors at all, they have simply gone by the blue label. This creates unnecessary work and financial cost on clients who trust the word of the “expert”.
I have also heard comments that “every door opening on to an internal corridor needs to be a fire door”. While sometimes this statement is quite correct, this simplistic approach often creates unnecessary expense for building owners or occupiers. If we take a moment to consider that we can measure travel distances to separate fire compartments, final exits or protected staircases, then in some instances providing other compensatory factors, such as automatic fire detection being in place, then we can minimise the number of fire doors required. While not ideal when considering property protection, we should remember that we are undertaking life safety fire risk assessments. In addition, it’s likely that most of the readers have encountered buildings where the spaces above so-called fire doors may well have no passive fire protection measures in place at all.
Passive fire protection
For fire risk assessors who are satisfied the door is required then the checks should not be restricted to assessing merely the door and its components. Where at all possible an assessment should be made of the passive fire protection in the areas above the fire doors. The structure above the door should provide the same fire resistance as the door itself. Where service penetrations in brickwork, concrete or plasterboard have been created then they should have been sealed with proprietary products given the same protection as the structure that has been breached. Squirty intumescent foam is rarely an acceptable form of protection on its own. In short, just looking at a door is not a suitable and sufficient means of assessing passive fire protection.
For many types of higher risk buildings, it is reasonable to expect that some in house inspections have been routinely undertaken on all fire doors by staff such as maintenance engineers or building managers. The frequency of these should be set by the fire risk assessment, with some occupancy types being as often as daily depending on the potential for damage or misuse.
These are relatively simple checks but anyone undertaking them needs to receive suitable training and instruction in order to ensure that they are competent to know what they are looking out for. As an assessor you should also satisfy yourself that these fire door checks are actually being undertaken to a suitable standard and there is not just a good old tick box in use.
- Any doors on automatic self-closing devices linked to the fire detection and alarm system should be checked weekly to ensure they have closed during the alarm test;
- Checks should also routinely be undertaken to ensure the doors are in good condition, these should include:
- Any fitted intumescent strips and cold smoke seals are in good condition, not lose fitting, damaged or excessively overpainted;
- There are no obvious signs of damage to the door or any of its components such as the self-closing device, fire rated glazing, door handles etc;
- The fire door is not wedged open and its self-closing device operates correctly (unless you are satisfied that suitable management controls are in place for the use of door wedges, for example the door is closed when the room is unoccupied);
- When closed the fire door makes a good seal with no gaps exceeding 3-4mm around its frame (roughly the width of a pound coin for anyone without a testing card);
- Nothing has been fitted to, or painted on to the door which will affect its ability to perform its function.
You can download a free fire door checklist from the British Woodworking Federation at: www.bwf.org.uk/fileadmin/documents/fdd/fire_door_maintenance_leaflet.pdf
The Secret Risk Assessor is a well-known risk assessor in the fire sector. They have asked for their name to be withheld so they can speak freely about common failing they see in buildings across the UK.