Driving forward standards in fire door safety

Fire Door Safety Week raises awareness of the vital role that fire doors play in keeping building occupants across the UK safe. Helen Hewitt of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), explains how greater awareness coupled with new legislation is moving fire safety standards forward

Fire doors are required in most public, commercial and multiple occupancy buildings. They play a vital role in helping to hold back the spread of fire and/or smoke to allow for a safe means of escape for building occupants while enabling the emergency services to enter the building. They consist of specialist components which have been designed and tested to control the passage of smoke and withstand fire for a specific period. 

However, fire doors continue to be used and treated improperly. They’re often left propped open or damaged, and these issues frequently go unreported. For a fire door to fulfil its life-saving role in the event of a fire, it must be properly specified, installed and maintained, as well as properly used, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to play a part.

New fire door responsibilities 

Regulation is what underpins the entire fire safety ecosystem when it comes to housing, so let’s start there. New building fire safety regulations, known as the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 came into force in January 2023 implementing many of the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report. Highlighting the important role that fire doors play in a building’s fire safety, the new legislation primarily focuses on the role of the ‘responsible person’ and multiple occupancy buildings, particularly high-rise properties.

Within Regulation 10 of the new legislation, there are two key areas surrounding fire doors the responsible person needs to be aware of: keeping residents informed and fire door inspections.

The responsible person needs to ensure that all residents are aware of crucial information over fire doors. This should cover basic use information, such as that fire doors should remain closed when not being used to enter/exit an area and should not be tampered with in any way. 

Information also needs to be provided over how and who to report fire door faults and damage to. 

This should be communicated to new residents as soon as possible and reissued to all residents every 12 months to maintain awareness of the role and importance of fire doors in maintaining fire safety.

The second key area of the legislation highlights the responsible person’s requirement to regularly monitor and check the condition of the building’s fire doors. This allows for maintenance issues to be quickly spotted and addressed, enabling the door to perform as designed in the event of a fire.

The frequency of fire door checks specified by the new legislation varies depending on the height of the building. For example, if the top storey is taller than 11 m or four storeys high, the fire doors should be checked by the responsible person at least every 12 months while fire doors in communal areas should be checked every three months.

The regulations highlight that these checks should be visual and simple to carry out – without the need for a specialist or tools. This should include a visual inspection to confirm that the self-closing device is working, and that there are no alterations, large gaps or damage to the fire door. To support the checks needed, the government has developed a helpful checklist.

For all fire door checks, data should be captured electronically for a digital record of the inspection date, details of fire doors checked, and any observations.  

Raising awareness

This year’s Fire Door Safety Week follows the introduction of new building and fire safety legislation and will highlight how greater awareness needs to go hand in hand with regulation to move fire safety standards forward.

Since its launch in 2013, Fire Door Safety Week has been crucial in raising awareness and addressing the ongoing misunderstanding of the vital role that fire doors play in keeping building occupants safe. The annual campaign, which will take place this year from 19-25 September 2023, is funded and managed by the British Woodworking Federation and is supported by a wide range of partners in the industry. 

Each year the campaign draws attention to specific issues related to fire doors such as poor installation and maintenance. It calls on building owners and users to check the operation and condition of their fire doors, and report those that aren’t fit for purpose. It also engages and educates property owners and the whole building industry to help them better understand the correct specification, installation, maintenance and inspection of fire doors. 

This year’s campaign will focus on the need for education to empower building users to be able to spot common fire door issues and provide them with the confidence to report issues to the responsible person for maintenance. It will also bring to life the importance of the life-saving role that a fire door fulfils and the need for everyone to play a role in reporting issues to ensure fire doors remain fit for purpose and able to perform as designed to save lives.

As part of the campaign this year, we will be launching new research bringing to attention the common misconceptions over fire door maintenance, inspection and reporting. We’ll also be hosting educational webinars to give fire safety professionals a platform to share their latest insights and industry best practice on fire door specification, installation and maintenance. 

There’s no question that fire doors perform a life-saving role in the event of a fire, but they can only perform effectively if they are correctly specified, installed and maintained – and more needs to be done beyond the introduction of new regulation. Through this year’s Fire Door Safety Week campaign, we aim to ensure everyone can play their part in being able to recognise and report issues that, if corrected, might make the difference in saving peoples’ lives. 

Helen Hewitt is CEO from the British Woodworking Federation (BWF)