Doors almost always feature in any commercial or residential refurbishment project. Whether for redecoration, renovation or replacement, where fire doors are concerned it is essential to understand the legal implications around their installation, maintenance and repair. Neil Ashdown from the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) outlines what contractors need to know.

Any person, company or organisation that owns, manages or operates buildings must comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This means that the ‘Responsible Person’ (RP) must ensure that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been carried out and that this includes both fire doors and escape doors.

FDIS_Fire_door_faults infographic fThis legislation gives the RP a legal duty to ensure fire doors and escape doors are maintained as suitable and fit for purpose, and engage ‘Competent Persons’ as necessary to assist with fire safety measures, which, of course, include fire doors. Furthermore, a person with procurement or installation responsibility for a fire safety system must ensure that those installing it are competent and up to the job. At the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS), we have seen many RP prosecutions that have resulted in heavy fines and even jail sentences, but now attention is turning to those who procure and install fire doors. So, to comply with fire safety law, what important issues should contractors be aware of?

Fire doors: what, why and how

The role of fire doors is to provide compartmentation to prevent fire and smoke spread in the event of a fire: they help to keep the fire in the part of the building where it started and help stop rapid development of the fire. Fire doors are tested and rated for fire separation performance and ratings are stated in terms of duration of time elapsed before the ultimate failure of the door. The most common ratings as referenced in UK Building Regulations are FD30 and FD60, although higher-rated doors such as FD90 and FD120 are available for use where additional protection is required. Fire doors are also tested for limited smoke passage and a fire door with smoke protection requirements will be described with the suffix ‘s’ such as FD30s.

The important issue for installers and refurbishment contractors is to understand how specification, installation and any alterations, such as glazing, may impact on the doors’ fire performance. Starting with procurement, manufacturers will have had their fire doors performance-tested at a laboratory together with suitable door hardware (locks, latches, hinges, door closers etc.), glazing and seals. From this performance test, an assessment will have been made providing details about the type of configuration in which the door may be used and the type of door hardware that may be fitted with the door. But make no assumptions. Not all fire doors can be used in a double door configuration or installed as double swing action doors, and not all types and sizes of seals and hardware are suitable. Check the door manufacturer’s installation instructions and data sheets as these will advise which applications the particular doors are suitable for as well as the type of hardware and seals that must be used, along with any intumescent gasket requirements.

Think of a fire door as an engineered fire safety device that, when installed on-site, must replicate exactly what was tested in the fire performance test. Only by doing so can you be sure that the door will provide the required level of protection. It is very important to procure the fire door and door hardware suitable for the application, not just in terms of fire rating but for the configuration too. This information must be given to the door and hardware suppliers to enable them to supply the correct products and components.

With new fire doors, it is advisable to procure complete fire doorsets. This takes away the added responsibility for the installer or contractor because the supplier will provide a complete set including door, frame, seals and door hardware – all correctly matched and suitable for the required application.

Today, most fire doors and hardware components will come with fire test evidence and the manufacturers and suppliers will belong to certification schemes, providing the certificates, instructions and assurances you need. Insist on these official documents and beware of companies that only state that they ‘comply with’ regulations.

Taking this approach will enable you to not only carry out correct installation but also provide the necessary operation and maintenance information to your clients. One particular area where heeding manufacturers’ instructions is essential is where glazed vision panels are required. Many fire doors must have any apertures cut and the glazing system fitted only at the manufacturer’s own factory or by a licensed door processor. On-site cutting of apertures and glazing is often not permitted and will invalidate the fire performance certification for the doors.

Existing doors

There will be times when refurbishing existing doors and making them fit for purpose, rather than buying new, is required. With existing doors, there may be no product certification and installation instructions, so what are the reference points and how can you be sure the work you do is correct and that the doors are fit for purpose? The answer is to make sure that the work is done or overseen by qualified people who can demonstrate fire door qualifications and credentials. Qualified fire door installers, repairers and maintainers will be aware of the British and European fire door standards, as well as the relevant publications and best practice guidelines when dealing with heritage and conservation buildings.

FDIS-certificated Fire Door Inspectors are reporting that, even now, they see recently installed fire doors that are not compliant with the correct standards and regulations. Common non-compliances are incorrect door closers, large and unsealed gaps at the doorframe and wall interface, misaligned door leaves and large gaps around the door leaf. Legislation makes it essential that fire doors are installed and maintained as fit for purpose – this is not an area to take chances.

Training and education

FDIS has been providing fire door education since February 2012, and its highly regarded Diploma in Fire Doors, an online programme, is suitable for everyone who works with fire doors. The diploma is the first step to becoming a certificated Fire Door Inspector. Training and education is now very easy to access, as is the option to engage the services of qualified Fire Door Inspectors to help make sure you meet your legal obligations.

Neil Ashdown
General Manager
Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS)