Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, dhf (Door & Hardware Federation) is stressing the vital importance of compartmentation and the terrible risks of getting it wrong.
In a bid to prevent the spread of fires in multi-occupancy buildings such as tower blocks and office buildings, the Tamworth-based trade association is calling for a change in Building Regulations, and for the UK government to enforce the use of complete doorsets in fire compartmentation.
Fire compartmentation is the term used for the sub-division of a building into manageable areas of risk, to prevent the spread of fire and smoke, and provide adequate means of escape. This involves the use of fire doors on individual flat entrance doors as well as those used in escape corridors and stairways. Fire doors are one of the most important and effective elements of a building’s passive fire protection, with more than three million being installed in the UK each year. Correctly manufactured, installed and maintained, they can save lives by protecting the route of evacuation and provide emergency services with safe access to the building.
dhf’s CEO, Bob Perry, explains:
“There are many crucial components of fire doors that distinguish them from conventional doors, ranging from specialised smoke seals around the frame to fire-resistant glazing, but if just one of these components fails due to poor maintenance or damage, the effectiveness of the door can be severely reduced. Problems also arise in ensuring the various components of a fire-resisting door assembly are compatible with each other and that they are correctly assembled. The benefit of using complete doorsets is that they are manufactured and supplied as a complete unit with the frame, the leaf and all the associated hardware having been tested and certified together. This eliminates the risk of non-compatibility between the various components.”
dhf’s recommendations come in the wake of a number of recent tragedies involving fire, particularly the Grenfell disaster which resulted in the loss of 71 lives. Failure to adhere to proper safety regulations can not only result in loss of life, but in legal implications. Earlier this year, Southwark Council was fined £570,000 following a fire at a 14-storey block of flats in South London in 2009 where six people died, including three children. Following the tragedy, inspectors visiting the premises discovered several structural and safety flaws, including breaches of fire-resistant structures between each maisonette staircase and the common internal doors, a lack of compartmentation in the false ceiling structures of common corridors, and a failure to provide fitted intumescent strips (which swell when heated) and smoke seals on fire doors.
“Fire doors are an integral part of the fire strategy for any building, designed to protect the occupants by maintaining compartmentation, essential to those who require speedy evacuation in the event of a fire,” continues Bob. “Properly installed and maintained, a fire door will hold back fire and smoke from 30 minutes to more than four hours. As demonstrated in these tragic cases, these extra minutes can be lifesaving.”
Nor is this a new problem. In 2013, BRE undertook an investigation into fire/smoke doors recently installed in eleven residential tower blocks owned by Stoke on Trent City Council. 66 doors (a random sample of 10% of the total) were subjected to very detailed examination, which included removal of architraves, hinges, locks and other components. This revealed that not one of the sampled doors had been adequately installed, to the extent that they would, in all probability, have failed to perform in a fire.
“Fire doors can be subject to much wear and tear during their lifetime,” concludes Bob. “For this reason, it is essential that they are properly and regularly inspected and maintained by qualified professionals, with any necessary repairs carried out immediately. We would also urge landlords and large housing providers such as local authorities and housing associations to be fully aware of their responsibilities: that their premises meet all fire safety requirements, are professionally maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire, and most importantly, keep their residents safe.”
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