Will my fire doors work?
The peace of mind from third-party certification
At the start of Fire Door Safety Week, it’s worth remembering that fire doors have the potential to save the lives of your family, friends, colleagues and customers. They can also save not just your stock and premises, but the continuation of your business. However, getting the specification, installation and maintenance of these specialist bits of equipment right is extremely difficult, requiring skills, knowledge and competence that most of us do not possess. When the risks are so high and the potential for things to go wrong so extensive, it’s important to invest in extra peace of mind. That is why third-party certification is worth it.
Unless you have that knowledge and know what to look for, fire doors look like any other door. When they are in heavy use or, for example, the weather is especially warm, it’s easy to see why the fact that they always return to the closed position is a source of frustration for users. While you can understand why they are so often damaged and wedged open, to do so increases risks to human health and safety exponentially and, if that weren’t incentive enough, can expose you to criminal prosecution under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO).
The point of fire doors – and why they should close after operation – is that they allow access to enclosed spaces known as ‘fire compartments’. These areas are designed strategically to contain a fire and delay its spread long enough to allow people to escape safely. For that reason, fire doors are technically complex and highly specialised. Their manufacture, fittings, installation and management are extremely important in the overall fire safety of buildings.
Fire doors can only delay the spread of fire and smoke if they are maintained and closed correctly at the time of the fire. In response to heat, intumescent seals fitted to timber based fire resisting doors expand to close the door edge gap and hold the door in position to prevent fire and hot gases breaching the doorset. Generally steel doorsets do not require intumescent seals as the leaves expand when heated, to lock in the frame, which in effect provides the same function as an intumescent seal. Fire resisting doorsets (steel and timber) that are also required to provide a smoke control function must be fitted with a seal, which is designed to limit the smoke leakage around the door leaf at ambient temperatures. The function and performance requirements of a smoke seal are different to the intumescent seal and can be fitted in combination with the intumescent or within a separate carrier in the door leaf edge.
However, this critical sealing action is pointless if the door is open or if any part of the entire door and its frame and fitting is wrong or damaged.
The face of the door, its core, frame, glazing and associated hardware must be fire-resisting and tested to the relevant fire standard for the specific timings, which varies depending on the situation. Equally, if incompatible or unapproved components such as door furniture penetrate through the thickness of the door or compromise the action of the seals, or if the door is in any way damaged, it could also fail.
Even if they are aware of their legal duties under the RRFSO, most people don’t appreciate these subtleties. It’s not just the complexity of fire doors’ construction that is in question here; it’s all the other stuff too. For example, how do you know that the door and frame have passed the appropriate tests to back up their manufacturers’ fire-resisting claims? How do you know that the one you have been sold is the same as the one that passed a test? How do you know that the installer installed it correctly? And how do you know that it has not subsequently been damaged simply through wear and tear or unwittingly compromised by unrelated building works?
Although you can never be absolutely certain, you can allay your fears, save time, and, in the context of the RRFSO, demonstrate due diligence by specifying fire door sets that are third-party certified to meet your requirements. Similarly, you can mitigate your risks by appointing third-party certified installers to carry out the work. The final part of the due diligence jigsaw is to check that fire doors remain in good working order by employing an appropriately qualified and competent site inspector.
Third-party certificates set out a scope of approval that the product meets specific requirements or standards, and are issued by independent certification bodies such as Exova BM TRADA or Warrington Certification. Although not a legal requirement, there are various third-party certification schemes available in the UK that assure of quality in manufacture, installation and maintenance so that you can be confident in the performance of fire doors. Long-term, this assurance is very likely to be more cost-effective than doing without.
For peace of mind, people in charge of specifying fire doors should only stipulate third-party certified doors and ask to see the manufacturer’s certificate. Similarly, they should ask installers to demonstrate their competence by producing a relevant certificate. In both cases they should check that the certificate covers the use they intend, is in date, and is issued by a properly accredited certification body.
Third-party certification offers added assurance, as it goes beyond the minimum required by regulation. It helps you to demonstrate due diligence faster and more confidently, and in the event of a disaster, people are likely to be safer, the fire is less likely to be so damaging, and your enterprise is more likely to return to normal faster.
To find out more, contact Vikki Taylor at Exova, part of the Fire Door Alliance responsible for Fire Door Safety Week. Operated and managed by the British Woodworking Federation, membership of the Fire Door Alliance is only open to companies holding third-party certification under either the Certifire (offered by Warrington Certification) or Q-Mark schemes (offered by Exova BMTRADA).
The Fire Door Alliance is built on the principles of certification, effective training, clear traceability and continuous improvement and is an evolution of the BWF Certifire Fire Door and Doorset Scheme. It was originally established in 1997 by a group of Prime Fire Door Manufacturers within the BWF to provide a cost-effective method to certify doors with an aim to improve both the standard of and knowledge on fire doors. In April 2018 the Alliance was extended to support members who certify their products in the Q-Mark scheme.
The Fire Door Alliance’s mission is to ensure that only third-party certified fire doors, installed by certified companies, should be used in the UK and aims to improve the overall standard of fire doors installed in the UK. It also aims to educate the construction industry about the importance of third party certification of fire doors and passive fire protection systems, to raise awareness and educate the consumers, and users (most notably the Responsible People) of their liabilities and how they effectively manage their risk.