With new fire safety legislations demanding a renewed focus on safety in all residential settings, Karen Trigg of Allegion UK explains why care home and sheltered housing associations must prioritise the maintenance of fire doors.
The regulations and standards associated with fire safety and sheltered, assisted and social housing are, by necessity, robust. Yet, the responsibilities towards those standards, and subsequently, fire safety equipment such as fire doors, can often leave people vulnerable, as previous accounts have highlighted.
Fire doors in particular, are an essential defence against fire and smoke and in the event of a fire, give building occupants the time to get out safely - or have emergency services reach them. However, to work effectively, these doors must be installed by an expert and maintained properly from thereon after. There are no exceptions.
This is especially 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 can live. The standards those buildings must meet are reiterated in the recent updates to both the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill, which suggest a renewed focus on the safety of occupants in all residential settings.
Often, residential settings such as care homes and sheltered living locations require extra thinking behind the safety of occupants. With ease of movement and general building safety high on the agenda, so too should the fire safety of a building.
But, take care homes for example. Inspectors have been known to reprimand responsible parties for blocking fire door exits, wedging doors open, keeping fire doors locked and in some cases, finding 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 has to be followed, despite concerns over the spread of coronavirus, pointing out that propping open fire doors to avoid touching door handles compromises fire safety.
Care homes and sheltered housing providers are already responsible for the safety of their residents and legally obliged, under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), to ensure buildings and their people are safe. The Fire Safety Bill seeks to amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 and clarifies that the responsible person or duty-holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire. This includes the structure and external walls of the building, the entrance doors to individual flats and the fire doors for domestic, multi-occupancy premises. Furthermore, the update will enable fire and rescue services to take enforcement action against non-compliant building owners.
In addition, the Building Safety Bill, which will also make sure that the person responsible for safety carries out their duties properly, will be the catalyst for a new national regulator for building safety – ensuring occupants are safe and enforcing higher standards for all buildings. And so, with that in mind, where should those with fire safety responsibilities make a start?
The importance of a fully compliant fire door in a fire safety situation simply can’t be understated. 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 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 often, ensuring maintenance is carried out quickly and professionally should it be necessary. These simple checks – inspecting certification, gaps, seals, hinges and closure – 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 EN1634-1, so all the hardware and associated furniture, including door hinge, frame, intumescent seals, wall sealing, latch or lock and door leaf, must achieve the stringent EN classification codes and Health & 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. Upom closing, it’s vital fire doors close completely, shut tight and engage the latch by use of its own self-closing device. In the event fittings have become loose, responsible parties must ensure maintenance is swift and the doors are once again operating as they should be.
Finally, each fire door must have a minimum of three hinges and 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 must meet BS EN 1154 and, if delayed action, should be certified for use on fire doors. Certification labels and ‘Fire Door, Keep Shut’ signs, are also key in providing vital information to building occupants, and can be used by building managers for traceability purposes. Wear and tear should be routinely checked also, as well as locks and latches, which should be secure and without movement when the latch secures into place.
Vulnerable populations are often found in care homes and both sheltered and social housing situations. Residents are dependent on safe living conditions, as is the case in all residential properties, and that responsibility simply can’t be avoided.
Today, it’s more critical than ever for specialized 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. Prioritise safety checks and scheduled maintenance periods and the risks associated with fire can be reduced – after all, it’s an obligation, both moral and legal.