Michael Skelding and the DHF call on the industry to do better in ensuring door closers work properly

AT THE end of last year – and following the Grenfell Tower tragedy – the Door & Hardware Federation (DHF) issued a number of press releases which stressed the importance of compartmentation and called for crucial changes in building regulations. The federation urged the UK government to adopt and enforce a mandatory requirement for all fire doors to be complete doorsets manufactured and certified by a third party accreditation scheme, installed by a third party accredited installer and maintained by a third party accredited company.  
 
The organisation, widely respected as the industry’s independent authoritative voice, has been lobbying tirelessly for appropriate qualification of those responsible for manufacture, installation, repair and maintenance. It welcomed recommendations made in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Interim Report, which was published on 18 December, and in particular that those working on the design, construction, inspection and maintenance of complex and high risk buildings are suitably qualified. 
 
DHF represents companies which manufacture, install and maintain fire and smoke resisting doors, including pedestrian hinged/pivoted doors and rolling shutters. Accordingly, members have experience of working with many parts of the supply chain including architects, building contractors, facilities management companies and owners/occupiers of premises. However, a number of its members are now voicing their concern over a thorny issue, which is extensively recognised across the industry as requiring improvement: the poor state of door closers found on some fire resisting doorsets. 
 
Major failures
 
Although the initial investigation of the recent tragic fire at Grenfell Tower has understandably focused on the role of the cladding, survivors’ accounts published in the media make it clear that there was also a major failure of internal fire and smoke compartmentation – in that the central stairwell became full of smoke at a relatively early stage, which seems to have been a major contributor to the loss of life. 
 
It would therefore seem probable that failures of self closing fire and smoke doors will be found to have played a part in this. The role of the door closer in ensuring that fire and smoke resisting doors are closed properly is a critical one. Door closers can fail for a number of reasons, including issues relating to product testing and certification (including CE marking); failures resulting from a lack of available information for merchants, installers and end users; and problems in relation to installation, commissioning and maintenance, which  can all play their part.
 
This is an ongoing point of concern and an issue that has frequently arisen in recent DHF meetings. It is too often the case that door closers are incorrectly specified or badly installed, with the result that the door may not operate correctly. Lack of maintenance often exacerbates the problem. It’s a challenge that urgently needs addressing.
 
What is required is greater understanding industry wide about what a correctly specified, installed and maintained fire door closer must be able to do, ie close the fire door from any angle and against the resistance of any latches or seals in the event of fire; ensure that the closing is controlled in accordance with the requirements of the relevant standards, including EN 1154, EN 1155, EN 1158, EN 1634 and, if applicable, BS 8300; and maintain the integrity of the system, in that the closer must not itself present any additional fire hazard or impair the integrity of the door or frame.
 
Complexities of product
 
DHF holds the view that as an industry, we’re ‘getting it wrong’, by choosing the wrong product because of a lack of understanding; choosing the right product but experiencing problems when this gets changed owing to, for example, costs; or choosing the right product, but then having it incorrectly installed and maintained. 
 
Door closers are one of the most complex architectural ironmongery products, as well as – from a fire compartmentation perspective – one of the most important, so it is clear that greater clarity would help to resolve any potential issues.
 
In addition, information surrounding testing and certification is not always straightforward, with the European product standard for controlled door closing devices classifying the products in ways that are not always helpful to the specifier or user. Questions can arise over the suitability of certain door closers for use on fire resisting doors, and whether a particular closer is suitable for a particular doorset in a particular location. The data on the EN 1154 and EN 1634 test reports would be useful, but is not generally available, and would need an expert to interpret.
 
Another issue with CE marking (EN 1154 as a point in case) is that people trade one product against another, believing them to be the same. There is a reason why door closers range from £10 to £100, and we must remember that a CE mark only ensures that a ‘minimum’ level of performance is achieved. For a particular application, you may need a far better performing product.
 
From our experience, the biggest danger with CE marking is that it can give a false sense of security. For instance, if we look at the fourth digit of the performance classification under EN 1154, which is for fire behaviour, if there is a ‘1’ present, it doesn’t mean that that particular door closer is suitable for all fire doors – it only means that there is some form of fire test evidence. 
 
It doesn’t, for example, clarify door type (timber or metal), fixing position, functions (latch, backcheck and delayed action valves) or alternative accessories (bracketry or guide rails), and can even misrepresent the power sizes. As stated earlier, you would have to trawl through the test evidence or ask for clarification from your supplier, hoping that they have the knowledge or access to this information.
 
Standard compliance
 
In order to comply with the Equality Act 2010 (which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995), it will generally be necessary for fire doors to comply with the requirements of BS 8300. This includes a maximum opening force exerted by the user to open the door. Careful choice of closer for a specific doorset is essential, but the information provided to users is often inadequate and difficult to decipher. 
 
There is some evidence to suggest that testing by different notified bodies is not as consistent as we would wish. Similarly, sales literature is frequently inconsistent and installation instructions can lack clarity, often failing to distinguish between different applications and even different models of closer. The result is a bit of a minefield for installer or user.
 
Current statistics with regard to safety also make unsettling reading. An independent study recently identified that more than 60% of door closers in the UK are installed incorrectly. Of this number, a further 80% are not set up and commissioned correctly, with 25% an incorrect product in the first place! This tells us that a very small number of door closers are performing as they were designed or tested 
to perform.
 
A door closer reaches its optimum performance following 5,000 cycles and will generally need readjusting, but alarmingly, we have no evidence of this being carried out anywhere. Furthermore, it was identified that in new build applications, the door closers were (generally) installed prior to the full commissioning of the building, so no allowance was made for pressure differentials or temperature change from HVAC, flooring (catching the doorset and/or altering the closing pressure) or other factors.
 
Recommendations/campaigns
 
DHF’s recommendations are very much in line with its ongoing campaigning for manufacturing, certification, installation and maintenance of potentially dangerous products to be undertaken only by third party accredited bodies. With support from DHF and other key organisations such as the Fire Protection Association and National House Building Council, it is hoped that the industry can start to progress toward a system that promotes improved testing and third party certification. 
 
Improvements to the European standards are clearly desirable, but likely to take time. Lobbying through BSI standards committee B/538/4 and the European federation of associations of lock and builders’ hardware manufacturers (ARGE) is possible. 
 
Better enforcement action against misleading claims would be beneficial, although a lack of resources in local authority trading standards departments responsible for enforcement of the Construction Products Regulations 2013 is an issue. 
 
If we were able to achieve any number of these objectives, this would undoubtedly herald a simplification of selection for an installer or end user by: reducing risk; the promotion of basic checking and maintenance of the product in use; increasing awareness; and most importantly, raising fire safety performance for the most important fire compartmentation product on the doorset. It is important to understand that failure to adhere to proper safety regulations can not only result in loss of life, but also in legal implications.
 
There is of course help and guidance out there, be that through the DHF, our members, reputable manufacturers or other trade bodies. We’d urge anyone and at any point in the chain to seek advice if they’re unsure or just want peace of mind.
 
Michael Skelding is general manager and secretary of the DHF. For more information, view page 5

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