Building consultants discuss ‘continued fire door failures’
TRIDENT BUILDING Consultancy has, during Fire Door Safety Week, catalogued some of the ‘most common’ fire door defects discovered when undertaking inspections.
Run by the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), Fire Door Safety Week is now in its seventh year of highlighting ‘the importance of fire doors and good fire safety practice’. This year, it is specifically focusing on the ‘critical role’ played by doors in protecting people while they sleep, ‘particularly in specialised housing such as care homes, children’s homes and sheltered housing’ alongside houses in multiple occupation and communal properties.
Trident stated that evidence ‘continues to pile up’ about fire door failures in both residential and commercial properties, and two of its surveyors have ‘catalogued’ some of the most common defects found during inspections, with ‘hundreds’ of failing fire doors seen. One project for multiple residential tower blocks required an intrusive survey on seven fire doors from each block, with architraves removed to expose detailing between the door frame and structural opening.
This allowed the surveyors to cross check the doors with fire test evidence requirements, but they found that the door frame installations ‘were not compliant’ and would not provide the ‘required period’ of fire resistance – and along with other defects found, meant that all fire doors and frames had to be replaced.
Assistant building surveyor Christian Watkins said: ‘It was shocking to see that every single one of the sample fire doors we inspected was non-compliant. Once the architrave was removed, we could see the back of the door frame was packed with pink foam. This wasn’t going to act as any sort of barrier and clearly wasn’t in accordance with the test evidence for the fire doors. These buildings were only refurbished in 2015.’
Mr Watkins and Trident’s executive director Matt Clare recorded a range of further failures ‘on a regular basis’ in addition, including a ‘lack of maintenance records’; ‘missing or painted’ intumescent seals; fanlight windows above doors being replaced with plywood that ‘doesn’t offer the fire resistance needed’; integrated ventilation grills ‘without any’ fire resistance properties; and ‘often excessive’ gaps between doors and door frames.
In turn, other issues included ‘missing or incorrect’ fire escape signage, locked fire doors, untested ironmongery installations and door closers ‘not performing as intended’. Mr Clare, a specialist advisers on the Competence Steering Group for the government’s Building a Safer Future consultation, and its working group looking at skills and training required for fire risk assessments, noted that design and build ‘is partly to blame’.
He added: ‘It is absolutely clear to me that such contracts and procurement routes, where risk in construction contracts is being shifted onto the contractors, has driven the wrong behaviours when it comes to building safety. I think that the loss of the clerk of works from construction is another factor. There are things being done that you would never have got away with in a traditionally procured contract because the clerk of works would have told you to take it down and do it again.
‘That doesn’t happen anymore. But there’s also an overall decline in standards of workmanship and care and pride when it comes to our buildings. And that’s the very pernicious attitude we need to change fastest, across all trades and professions. It is our responsibility both as property owners and construction professionals to ensure that we are prioritising fire safety throughout a building’s life. Properly specified, fitted and maintained fire doors are a fundamental part of this.’
Mr Watkins also commented on a recent project at a new build care home, where the clerk of works oversaw fire door installation: ‘I inspected the development during the plastering stage when the fire doors were also being installed. It was interesting to note that the carpenters were fitting the doors extremely tight into the frame. This was to allow for the timber shrinkage that occurs when heating is applied to the building and the plaster finishes dry out.
‘Once the moisture levels had stabilised, final adjustments were made to the doors. This approach ensured that gaps between the door, frame and threshold didn’t shrink and then exceed the maximum acceptable standards. I’ve never seen that method being used before and it prevented anyone having to go back and rectify the doors post-build.’
The company has called for clerks of works ‘to be reinstated as the norm’, and gave its ‘strongest support’ to the idea of a compulsory competency register for fire door installers ‘in line with’ recommendations in the recently released Raising the Bar report.