Fire door replacement delayed by ‘misleading’ government advice
INDUSTRY REPRESENTATIVES have stated that ‘flawed’ government advice has delayed ‘vital work’ to replace unsafe fire doors nationwide.
Earlier in 2018, an independent panel stated that ‘no change’ was needed to building fire safety advice after a fire door from Grenfell Tower tests recently failed police tests. That panel aimed to ‘determine whether any further action was required as a result’, and in a written statement, then Housing Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed further investigations into the doors – manufactured by Manse Masterdor, which is now no longer trading – were not recommended.
More recently, new Housing Secretary James Brokenshire updated parliament, confirming experts ‘advise the risk to public safety remains low’, though soon after that an investigation found that London councils continue to ‘scramble to replace’ tens of thousands of faulty fire doors. These latest tests came after police tests on doors used at Grenfell Tower found that they could only resist flames for 15 minutes, and not the 30 minutes expected.
In August, five suppliers’ doors failed UK performance tests, and have been withdrawn from the market, while most recently the National Housing Federation warned that social landlords are ‘struggling to get hold of’ new fire doors, and are ‘uncertain’ about the risks posed by those that failed safety tests.
Inside Housing has now reported on views from the industry on government advice, with representatives calling it ‘flawed’ and ‘misleading’, and blaming it for delaying ‘vital work being done’ to replace unsafe doors. This has entailed landlords cancelling door orders, sending back deliveries and ‘refusing payments for fully certified’ doors, with Advice Note 16 the document ‘intended to help’ replace doors, and released in July.
The document stated that before a replacement door could be fitted, a landlord needs to have ‘test evidence that the door resists’ fire and smoke ‘from both sides’, but this is commonly applied to composite doors that are ‘relatively new’ and are ‘without historical test data’. This has also ‘never applied’ in the industry to non composite, timber or metal door, with some landlords cancelling orders, returning doors or refusing payments after being unable to get data for both sides.
A month later, Advice Note 17 was released by the government that clarified Advice Note 16 ‘applies to composite doors only’, with many believing that the ‘incorrect advice’ in the first note was because the government did not have ‘enough experts on fire doors advising it’. While fire door safety experts have held ‘numerous’ meetings with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Inside Housing has heard ‘some feel their advice has been ignored’.
Fire safety consultant Mike Wood said: ‘For timber doors, there’s a protocol established by test evidence, that if you test opening into the furnace – for a symmetrical door leaf – that’s a worse orientation than opening away from the furnace. So you test on that side. The government has to be far more responsive to the way the industry works. They can’t just drop a bombshell like that. What they don’t seem to realise is, they create doubt and confusion which hangs around.’
Charlie Conley, head of asset management at Flagship Group, added: ‘There is a lack of clarity on what products are safe. We can’t say for certain there aren’t going to be some more issues with fire doors further down the line. We want to make sure that we are spending the money wisely and if there is this uncertainty then that is something which is of huge concern.
‘We don’t want to be spending tenants’ money on things that aren’t fit for purpose and also potentially putting them at risk by putting something in there which is not going to be safe.’
An MHCLG spokesperson responded: ‘The government is doing everything it can to ensure construction products are of the highest safety standards. Advice note 17 is complimentary, not contradictory of advice note 16 and both notes still stand.’