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The True Importance of Door Hardware Selection for Fire Safety

01 September 2020

AS THE role of door hardware expands and fire safety continues to make the headlines, Karen Trigg outlines in detail the importance of hardware selection and reminds decision-makers of how routine checks can save lives.

Door hardware is more than just a cosmetic consideration. In fact, it plays a role in the operational integrity of a building and, more crucially, is a key element of a facility’s fire safety and security regime.

Fire doors and their accompanying hardware in particular require special attention. Install equipment that’s inefficient and suddenly you could put a whole building’s network of fire safety measures at risk. In light of this year’s debate on the Government’s planned fire safety reforms, the importance of fire door hardware is now more valued than ever.

The expanding role of hardware is also giving decision-makers extra considerations to think about when choosing hardware. From ease of integration through to the flow of people movement, various factors can dictate a decision and have the potential to overwhelm. Yet decision-makers must remember they have a responsibility to ensure that a fire door and its hardware operate effectively even after installation.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry

In essence, fire doors are designed to protect occupants from the spread of fire, smoke and toxic fumes. That being so, hardware (including door handles, closers and hinges) must meet certain standards and Continuing Professional Development requirements.

However, Phase One of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry offered us all a timely reminder that not all buildings are meeting these requirements. In fact, detailed Grenfell Tower reports have raised questions over the integrity of the fire doors that were in place at the building, focusing on the failure of compartmentation and broken self-closing mechanisms on flat entrance doors. If incorrect hardware selection or failed maintenance was to blame, this case, like many others, should become the catalyst for swift change before the safety of others is jeopardised.

Today, hardware is designed to adapt and tackle almost all fire safety, security and operational challenges that a building can throw its way. From access and emergency egress elements to the more unique and defined details such as flow of movement, its importance simply cannot be understated. Too often, though, and as is the case with other purchasing decisions, cost can sometimes triumph over quality.

Change in culture

With this in mind, industry experts are now calling for a change in fire safety culture. Although there are various elements and touchpoints to consider, one area that must change quickly is how we choose our door hardware. Manufacturers, architectural ironmongers and installers must all recognise that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution doesn’t exist and, instead, make adequate and proactive choices.

It never has been acceptable to install sub-standard equipment. We must build on industry education and move away from reactive decisions because fire safety requires extra consideration even after decisions on hardware have been made.

Even with the correct door hardware in place, operational life can be significantly reduced if basic maintenance is neglected. Previously, Best Practice guidelines have suggested that the performance of self-closers should be checked once every six months. However, in line with the failings of various buildings, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has now proposed quarterly fire door checks as part of its proposed fire safety-focused reforms.

From door furniture to panic and emergency exit hardware, building owners must ensure all doors are kept in good order and operational to meet Health and Safety requirements. Most entrances endure repeated use, especially so in buildings with a high footfall, which means durability can sometimes become an issue. However, both occupants and qualified teams can undertake a number of hardware checks as part of regular maintenance periods.

Functional checks

Visual inspections can determine whether a door and its hardware has attained any damage. Both the physical door and its surrounding frame and hardware can become damaged over time. However, if its functionality is being affected, the damaged area should be replaced immediately.

Functional checks are also key to maintaining a door’s fire safety and operational elements. These checks will reveal whether hardware is still operating effectively, without requiring any undue force. Seals or weather-stripping can sometimes become loose and inhibit the correct operation of a fire door and may need to be replaced.

Similarly, some fixings may need to be tightened to ensure that the door can swing freely. By completing these checks, not only will fire safety and facility managers expand the operational life of their hardware, but they’ll also protect the lives of occupants.

Simply put, the choice of hardware will always be integral in the success of a facility’s fire safety. With various high-profile failings being publicised, it’s clear that a change in approach to fire safety is long overdue.

With the development of new fire safety reforms, we should now be guiding those responsible towards better standards within their own buildings. After all, it only takes the failure of one designated fire door to spell disaster.

Karen Trigg is Business Development Manager at Allegion (UK)