Over half (52%) of UK local authorities responding to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request reported delays to planned fire door maintenance and replacement in the first half of 2020. The number rises to 60% when inspection delays are also factored in.
For building occupants and the fire services, fire doors play a life-saving role in holding back the spread of fire and smoke to help keep corridors and emergency exits clear. With more people spending time in their homes due to COVID-19, this year Fire Door Safety Week explores the state of fire door maintenance and replacement programmes across local authority managed housing.
According to the data, at least 26,318 fire doors were scheduled for maintenance or replacement between January and June 2020, but 16,580 did not progress – meaning 63% of individual planned works were delayed until at least the second half of the year, affecting a minimum of 9,954 individual properties.
The data, obtained for Fire Door Safety Week, is based on responses from 147 local authorities that own and manage their own housing stock – not including areas where property is solely managed by private registered providers or housing associations.
Not all responding local authorities provided reasons for delay, but over half (53%) of those experiencing delays cited COVID-19-related restrictions, including limited property access and availability of contractors due to social distancing guidelines. However, it was positive that several local authorities proactively mentioned that emergency repair works to fire doors continued throughout the lockdown period to maintain the safety of residents.
Of those local authorities that experienced delays, 65% intend to commence works by the end of the year. This signals that the majority recognise the importance of properly fitted and maintained fire doors. However, worryingly 31% of local authorities stated that they are yet to define a date for recommencing the planned works.
Helen Hewitt, Chief Executive of the British Woodworking Federation, which organises Fire Door Safety Week, said: “It is clear COVID-19 has understandably impacted on service delivery across a variety of sectors, but fires do not stop. With the UK lockdown period forcing many people to spend more time at home, people without fit for purpose fire doors have been put at risk. There is a need for continued and urgent focus on ensuring the safety of all building occupants whether in local authority or privately-rented accommodation, workplaces or other building types.”
Discussing local authority plans to recommence delayed works, Helen Hewitt said: “It’s encouraging to see that over half of local authorities experiencing delays are due to recommence or complete their scheduled fire door replacement and maintenance in the second half of 2020. For those yet to define a date to recommence works, it is vital local authorities take action to replace or maintain fire doors that have been identified by inspectors as soon as possible.
“The construction industry has worked hard to ensure that it is COVID-secure, and now there is a need to act to ensure individuals living and working in properties have safe and compliant fire doors. We hope Fire Door Safety Week will draw attention to these important issues and encourage all with responsibility for fire doors to take urgent action.”
Fire door inspections
In addition to delays to maintenance and replacement in the first half of the year, 31% of all responding local authorities stated their fire door inspection programmes were delayed, affecting at least 12,596 fire doors.
On inspections, Helen Hewitt commented: “Regular inspections, carried out by trained and competent professionals, are essential in identifying damage that may prevent a fire door from performing in the event of a fire. If a damaged door goes unidentified it cannot perform its life-saving role. We urge all local authorities and building owners to restart inspections as soon as possible, if they haven’t already, as fire doors can become damaged at any time, especially where they are frequently used.”
The findings follow an open letter from the London Fire Brigade to all housing providers in the Capital urging them to put plans in place ahead of new fire safety legislation coming into effect. The letter strongly advises building owners to consider the risks of existing fire doors in their fire risk assessments, regardless of the height of the building.
Commenting on fire door standards, Helen Hewitt said: “The Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill, both currently going through Parliament, will place a greater responsibility on building owners to ensure risks are identified and improvements made where necessary. Our message to all building owners is: ‘stay ahead of the game and do not get left behind when it comes to bringing all fire doors up to the correct standard’.”