Fire Doors are more than just doors and fitting them requires specialist skills

Do I believe that fire doors in most new buildings are being installed correctly? On what I have found, it’s a no from me.

Is this a problem just among small building companies? Again I regret it’s a no. Contractors of all sizes, while they generally employ or sub contract to skilled carpenters and joiners, have time and time again shown a lack of knowledge of the specialist way in which fire doors should be installed. I have either seen or had reported to me by Certificated Fire Door Inspectors major issues, some of which are currently going through the courts, where fire doors have been installed incorrectly and would be pretty much useless at compartmenting flames and smoke in a fire. From iconic London buildings costing hundreds of millions of pounds, to schools, hospitals, care homes and blocks of flats the problems are across the board and are the work of some of the biggest names in construction.

I do not, for a moment, think that there are any contractors out there deliberately fitting faulty fire doors. Certifications for the doors will have been verified, work will have been checked and rechecked prior to handover. But if no one in the process really understands the issues then clearly the problems won’t be picked up.

In fact most of the issues sound simple to fix and centre around cutting too much from the edge of the door, unsuitable hinges, gaps between the door and frame being too large, incorrectly fitted closers and wrong or missing seals. If you’re responsible for installing, overseeing or approving the installation of fire doors you need to ask yourself whether you know 100% what makes a hinge unsuitable, a seal wrong, a closer incorrect or a gap too large. And if you don’t you’d better either get trained or get someone in who’s qualified in this specialist area.

Because it’s not just about quality it’s about legal responsibilities too. Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) and your probable duty as the Responsible Person appointing the Competent Person to undertake works you could be liable if fire doors are shown to be defective whether or not a fire actually occurs.

And then there are the cost implications of getting it wrong too. Recently a building owner was required to upgrade fire doors to comply with RRO. The contractor purchased standard fire doors, cut them to size and glazed them against the advice of the fire safety officer. As a result the doors’ fire integrity performance was adversely affected and the manufacturers’ certification was void. There are 67 doors and I believe they are still arguing about who pays for the replacements.

I recently spoke to Certificated Fire Door Inspector Jeremy French whose words I think perfectly sum up the fire door dilemma. “Where we see the focus on using the lowest price we also see low levels of compliancy and operational problems with doors. Competent people are making uninformed, potentially life threatening decisions, not through negligence but ignorance.”

Certificated Fire Door Inspectors can be found at www.fdis.co.uk/inspector