The fire risks associated with multi-occupied residential buildings remain high on the sector’s agenda, and the latest wave of fire safety reforms can help address key concerns, says Karen Trigg of Allegion UK.
In recent years, both high-rise and high-risk building environments have been the subject of much industry focus. Where Grenfell was a catalyst for change, the incremental introduction of new reforms (such as the Fire Safety Act 2021 and Building Safety Bill) – alongside major Government funding schemes – have since been key in raising fire safety standards across the board.
But while significant steps have been made in a number of areas, professionals can’t afford to now stand still. Only recently, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service were forced to evacuate a block of flats deemed to be a fire safety risk, of which tenants cited a lack of communication concerning the building’s fire safety. Evidently, these are not isolated incidents, and there is still work to be done.
In fact, many multi-occupied building environments have been exposed for falling short in fire safety situations. While it’s true that the complexity and scale of high-risk settings present unique fire safety challenges, responsible parties must endeavour to address them, focusing on all components of fire protection in the process. And where fire door safety is concerned, the latest evolution of the legislative landscape might prove to be the answer.
Introducing Regulation 10
- Undertake quarterly checks of all fire doors (including self-closing devices) in the common parts; and
- Undertake – on a best endeavour basis – annual checks of all flat entrance doors (including self-closing devices) that lead onto a building’s common parts.
In addition, the updated regulations state responsible persons must provide residents with relevant fire safety instructions and detailed information relating to the importance of operational fire doors in regard to the building’s fire safety systems.
These essential updates derive from the recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (Phase 1 report) and, among others detailed under The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022, are designed to improve fire safety standards in high-rise, high-risk residential buildings. Under UK legislation, all revisions must now be followed closely, with responsible persons expected to alter their approach to fire door safety in response to the framework.
Educating and Evaluating
For decision makers overseeing fire door safety in high-risk residential buildings, in relation to Regulation 10, there are perhaps two key takeaways:
- The rate and proficiency of risk assessments on fire doors and their hardware is changing; and
- There is greater accountability to provide residents with improved communication and education on fire door safety.
Last year, after an increase in demand for fire door inspections, the Fire Door Inspection Scheme revealed three quarters of fire doors inspected in the UK did not meet the required standard. Furthermore, prior to the Fire Safety Act 2021, flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings may not have been considered as part of fire risk assessments.
Today, there is a greater impetus on providing detailed checks on fire doors and their hardware as fundamental components of passive fire protection. The newly proposed quarterly checks of fire doors – as well as the annual checks on flat entrance doors and self-closing devices – will ensure the standards of inspected fire doors rise, with responsible persons pushed to systematically inspect the key elements of all doorsets moving forward, including the certification, gaps, seals, hinges and closing elements.
Commonly, third-party tested fire doors are available in ratings ranging from FD30 to FD120 and can protect buildings and their residents from smoke and fire for 30 to 120 minutes respectively – but only when the aforementioned components are fitted, maintained and used appropriately. Furthermore, to remain compliant, all dedicated fire doors must be fitted with a certified fire door closer (a minimum power size of EN3 is required to conform to the EN 1154 standard) as a fire door will only do its job to contain a fire and smoke if it is closed.
Upon inspection, if a fire door isn’t operating as intended, or there is any ambiguity in regard to hardware classifications and reliability, it’s imperative to seek out professional advice and ensure maintenance is carried out both quickly and professionally. For those who remain unclear on fire door safety and risk assessments, online assistance – in the form of guides or specialists – can further support and educate on key areas of fire safety practice, such as risk assessments, fire door checks and compliance.
Building owner responsibility
In multi-occupied building environments, residents are also encouraged to raise concerns if fire doors are not operating as they should. On the other hand, as Regulation 10 points out, there is now a greater responsibility for building owners to provide clear information on the building’s fire safety. This should comprise of clear instructions on how to report a fire or fire safety related issue, as well as emergency evacuation instructions, which should highlight routes of escape with concise signage and fully compliant, operational fire doors. In addition, to combat poor fire safety practice (such as propped open stairway or flat entrance doors), it’s vital to provide up-to-date, educational information on the importance of fire doors and their role in the building’s system.
With Regulation 10, there’s once more a clearer strategy for fire safety in multi-occupied residential buildings. The latest in reforms will continue to transform the approach to fire risk assessments and the competency to which they’re completed. What’s more, with a well-rounded educational approach, all parties, including residents, can further understand the intricacies of fire door safety and how their own actions may alter the effectiveness of a building’s fire protection. In doing so, we may well be moving towards a brighter, safer future for high-risk environments.
The full Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 document can be viewed here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/fire-safety-england-regulations-2022