The life-saving role of fire doors in public sector buildings

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) explains best practice for fire doors in public sector buildings including healthcare settings

Day to day, a fire door is used in the same the way as for any other door. However, in the event of a fire, the fire door must then perform its primary role – to protect lives and prevent the spread of fire and/or smoke.
So, what part do fire doors play in ensuring a building’s safety? Who is responsible for them, and what measures need to be taken to ensure they perform as intended in the event of a fire?

What role do fire doors have in public buildings?
Fire doors are required in most public, commercial and multiple occupancy buildings and they form a crucial part of a building’s passive fire protection strategy. Fire doors help 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 defined period. They enable access between the compartments of a building that are used to contain a fire while preventing a fire spreading from one area to another, and are used to maintain vital escape routes.

In public sector buildings such as care homes or houses of multiple occupancy, which often house vulnerable people, a safe route of escape is essential. In the case of healthcare buildings, protecting escape routes for as long as possible can be vital where the occupants of the building may have difficulty responding to a fire alarm or escaping from the building unaided.

The importance of fire door classifications
For escaping a building, the fire door classification - the period for which a fire door can resist fire, and whether the fire door is also a smoke control door – is vital. Fire doors can be classified under the National System or the European System. A fire door assembly that has been tested to BS 476: Part 22 for fire resistance and was found to resist fire for a minimum of 30 minutes can be classified under the National System as FD30. After further testing to BS 476-31.1 for smoke control a fire door can be classified as FD30S.
Alternatively, a fire door can be tested for fire resistance to BS EN 1634-1 and if it resists fire for a minimum of 30 minutes it can be classified under the European System as E30. If the door is also tested for smoke control to BS EN 1634-3 it can be classified as E30Sa.

Who is responsible for fire doors in public buildings?
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) states that every public building must have a ‘Responsible Person’, typically the building owner or a facilities manager.
In addition to carrying out fire risk assessments, the Responsible Person must also take steps to reduce or remove any fire safety risks on an ongoing basis and ensure inspections of fire safety ‘assets’, such as fire doors, are carried out regularly.  

How often should fire doors be inspected?
Public sector buildings such as hospitals, care homes and schools often have high levels of through-traffic, making fire doors vulnerable to inevitable wear and tear. This is particularly true for healthcare settings where fire doors can also be damaged by the transportation of beds and trolleys.
Cracks and dents in a door – and any gaps between the door and its frame – will not only reduce its effectiveness and ability to perform as designed in the event of a fire, but can also harbour bacteria, impacting vital hygiene standards.
Frequency of inspection depends on many factors, including the age and condition of the door.
For example, the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 requires that, for buildings that contain two or more domestic premises and are over 11 metres in height, the Responsible Person, “must use best endeavours to undertake checks of fire doors at the entrances of individual domestic premises in the building at least every 12 months,” and they, “must undertake checks of any fire doors in communal areas of the building at least every 3 months.” In addition, BS 999:2017 Fire Safety in the design management and use of buildings - code of practice, Annex I, contains guidance on the “routine inspection and maintenance of fire safety installation” for the daily, monthly and six-monthly checks on fire doors.
However, in buildings where fire doors are in high use and therefore more susceptible to damage, for example in hospitals and schools, best practice recommends that they are inspected as frequently as each week or each month based on the door’s usage.

Visual inspections of fire doors can help quickly identify any obvious maintenance issues that need to be addressed. However, the role of fire door inspectors should not be overlooked.
Qualified and experienced fire door inspectors can conduct a thorough inspection and highlight issues that may not be easily visible but that could prevent the door performing as intended in the event of a fire. However, everyone can play a role in maintaining the fire safety of the buildings they occupy - the BWF’s Five Step Fire Door Check highlights the key elements to look for when you suspect a fire door may be in need of maintenance. Also, the Government has developed a checklist to support the Responsible Person with their fire door checks.  

Why is third-party certification important?
Knowing that a fire door will perform as stated in the event of a fire is crucial. A standalone fire test report can evidence the performance of a fire door, but it can only cover the actual configuration of the fire door assembly that was tested and there is no oversight of the production of doors produced following the one-off test.
Fire door third-party certification is a robust process which involves the fire door manufacturer or processor being audited by an independent third party to provide evidence that the fire door is appropriately tested and produced to a consistent standard.
For members of the BWF Fire Door Alliance, this involves meeting the strict criteria of an initial programme of fire testing, and auditing of the manufacturing process and quality management systems, which are confirmed by ongoing, regular, product testing and auditing.
This provides vital evidence of performance and ensures that the initial tests were not a one-off result, giving building owners, the Responsible Person, specifiers and building users peace of mind that the fire door will perform as designed in the event of a fire. It also offers traceability throughout the construction supply chain, allowing access to important information about the door’s component parts which is essential to maintaining the door’s certification should any components or maintenance be needed.
When a fire door is manufactured or modified by a member of the BWF Fire Door Alliance an identifying label or plug is applied to the door in accordance with the chosen certification scheme. This allows for full traceability of the door by the fire door manufacturer or licensed processor, enabling access to documentation related to its specification and production records. This means the original fire certificate and specification can be sourced, enabling on-site checks to be carried out against the door’s original standards. If it’s found that any components should be replaced, the documents will also outline the parts compatible with the original certification and test requirements to ensure compliance is maintained.

Best practice and advice
To support the Responsible Person and all building owners in meeting their obligations, the BWF and the BWF Fire Door Alliance has produced a range of advice and e-learning materials covering fire door responsibilities and key knowledge, as well as best practice for inspections and maintenance.