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Removing the Obscurity Behind Sheltered Housing Fire Standards

13 April 2021

WITH NEW fire safety legislation demanding a renewed focus on safety in all residential settings, Karen Trigg explains why care home and sheltered housing associations must absolutely prioritise the maintenance of fire doors.

By necessity, the regulations and standards associated with fire safety and sheltered, assisted and social housing are robust. Yet the responsibilities towards those standards, and subsequently, fire safety equipment such as fire doors can often leave people vulnerable as previous episodes have highlighted.

Fire doors in particular are an essential defence against fire and smoke and, in the event of a fire, afford building occupants the necessary time to evacuate safely or otherwise allow the Emergency Services to reach them. However, in order to work effectively, such doors must be installed by an expert and maintained properly from that point onwards. There are no exceptions to that rule.

This is particularly important in care homes and sheltered living scenarios where there are multiple – and often vulnerable – occupants, and in social housing developments where many susceptible tenants may be resident. The standards those buildings must meet are reiterated in the new Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill, both of which suggest a renewed focus on the safety of occupants in all residential settings.

Robust legislation

Often, residential settings such as care homes and sheltered living developments require extra thought being put into the safety of occupants. With ease of movement and general building safety high on the agenda, fire safety considerations must be part of the mix.

When it comes to care homes, fire safety inspectors have been known to reprimand ‘Responsible Persons’ over blocked fire door exits, fire doors having been wedged open and keeping fire doors locked. In some cases, inspectors have found fire doors that are incorrectly fitted. That’s not to mention potential maintenance issues.

In fact, it was last year that the Care Quality Commission issued a warning to care home managers that fire safety legislation has to be followed at all times despite concerns over the spread of Coronavirus, pointing out that propping open fire doors to avoid people touching door handles compromises fire safety.

Care home and sheltered housing providers are already responsible for the safety of their residents and legally obliged – under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – to ensure that buildings and their people are safe.

The aforementioned Fire Safety Bill seeks to amend the Fire Safety Order and clarifies that the ‘Responsible Person’ or duty holder for multi-occupied residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire. This includes considerations around the structure and external walls of the building, the entrance doors to individual flats and the fire doors for domestic multi-occupancy premises. Fire and Rescue Services will be able to take enforcement action against non-compliant building owners.

The Building Safety Bill will make sure that the individual responsible for safety carries out their duties properly and also serve as the catalyst for a new national regulator for building safety, ensuring that occupants are safe and enforcing higher standards for all buildings. With that in mind, where should those with fire safety responsibilities make a start?

Necessary checks

The importance of a compliant fire door in a fire safety situation simply cannot be overstated. Available in various ratings from FD20 to FD120, fire doors will provide anything from 20 minutes to 120 minutes of protection against a fire, but in order to do so they must have all the necessary components fitted and working correctly.

As well as thorough risk assessments, it’s key for building managers to inspect their fire doors on a continual basis, ensuring that maintenance is carried out quickly and professionally should this be necessary. Simple checks – inspecting certification, gaps, seals, hinges and closure, for example – can provide a level of assurance that fire doors are functioning as intended.

Fire doors are tested as a complete assembly to BS 476 Part 22 or EN 1634-1. All of the hardware and associated furniture, including the door hinge, the frame, intumescent seals, the wall sealing, latch or lock and door leaf must achieve the stringent EN classification codes and Health and Safety requirements.

At the installation stage, the door must be fitted correctly, avoiding any loose fitting and ensuring elements such as screws are secure and tight. It’s vital that fire doors close completely, shut tight and engage the latch by use of their own self-closing device. In the event that fittings have become loose, the ‘Responsible Person’ at the facility must ensure maintenance is swift and that the doors are once again operating as they should be.

Finally, each fire door must have a minimum of three hinges. These must have a CE stamp and meet BS EN 1935 to achieve the necessary safety standards. Door closers must close from any angle, overcoming any obstacles such as seals, latches and air pressure.

In addition, mechanical door closers have to meet BS EN 1154. If delayed action mechanisms are employed, these should be certified for use on fire doors. Certification labels and ‘Fire Door, Keep Shut’ signs are also key in providing vital information for building occupants and can be used by building managers for traceability purposes. ‘Wear and tear’ should be routinely checked, so too locks and latches which should be secure and without movement when the latch secures into place.

Taking responsibility

Vulnerable people reside in care homes as well as sheltered and social housing situations. Such residents are dependent on safe living conditions and the responsibility for owners to provide the necessary levels of safety simply cannot be avoided.

Today, it’s more critical than ever for specialist housing associations and their facility managers to realise that even the smallest of changes to hardware and furniture can have a major impact on the effectiveness of a fire door. They must determine to prioritise safety checks and scheduled maintenance periods in order to reduce the risks associated with fire. Doing so is an obligation that’s both moral and legal in nature.

Karen Trigg is Business Development Manager at Allegion (UK)