Fire resisting doors in healthcare premises: Essential to fire safety but difficult to manage?

By Neil Ashdown CertFDI, FSIDip

The greatest consideration regarding fire safety in healthcare premises is clearly safety of relevant persons. In the event of a serious fire, progressive evacuation in stages to safe places would be necessary in keeping people away from the effects of fire and smoke.  Therefore the building’s fire and smoke compartmentation is relied upon to restrict the spread of fire and smoke from one part of the building to another.

It is the walls, floors, ceilings and fire doors that compartmentalise the buildings into a series of compartments to keep the fire in the room or compartment where it started thus maintaining safety for people elsewhere and allowing the fire and rescue service to reach the fire and deal with it.

The difficulty with fire doors is that although, just like the walls, they restrict fire and smoke spread they also have to function in busy areas, opening and closing possibly thousands of times each day. Add to that the likelihood of damage and the sheer number of them, it is easy to see how managing maintenance to a standard where older doors can meet the required fire and smoke ratings can be so challenging for estates departments.

Fire door strategy

At any large and complex building it will be necessary to have an efficient inspection and maintenance regime for fire doors. None more so than in health care buildings with inherent difficulties for evacuation. Maintaining fire doors could be seen as something akin to painting the Forth Bridge so first it is necessary examine the fire strategy to see which fire doors are most critical in providing protection to enable safe progressive evacuation.

Maintaining fire doors can be a drain on resources so it is vital that the efficient working order of the fire doors lines up with the fire evacuation requirements. The fire doors that protect escape routes and protect areas providing refuge are the most critical, the maintenance regime should take account of that. In other words there should be a fire door hierarchy starting with doors critical to the escape and refuge strategy all the way down to doors that although marked with the blue signs may not when aligned to the evacuation strategy be so necessary to safety. Dealing with fire safety is ‘risk-based’ so the fire risk assessment should identify fire doors that are vital to safe evacuation.

Fire door maintenance

Fire doors should be inspected at suitable intervals and maintained in efficient working order. The majority of fire doors are made from timber therefore repairs and maintenance can be carried out by competent carpenters. However, fire doors are different from ordinary doors especially regarding working tolerances, seals and ironmongery so maintenance teams should be aware that work must be carried out in accordance with the relevant standards.

BS 8214: 2016 is the code of practice for timber based fire doors so installers and maintenance teams should adhere to such guidance along with other codes of practices and guidance for hardware, seals and glazing.

Estates departments should therefore ensure that repairs, maintenance and new door installation work complies with necessary standards.

Training for fire door installation and maintenance teams

Those carrying out installation and maintenance works should have the necessary skills and competence.  Dedicated fire door installation and maintenance training can help operatives and their managers to understand the requirements for timber based fire doors so that maintenance work and new installations can be carried out to meet the relevant standards.

Fire Doors Complete Limited provides training courses both at its fire door training centre in Queniborough, near Leicester, and via remote learning courses. We can also provide the training at the clients own premises, so long suitable facilities are available.

Delegates can benefit by understanding more about the legislative requirements and standards. They can also find out how to access many useful fire door resources that will help them to select suitable products that can help maintain the service life of fire doors and help to protect doors from damage.

Where a fire door must be replaced due to severe damage or as part of refurbishment works the opportunity arises to ensure new doors will meet the necessary durability requirements as well as the correct fire rating.  There are many types of fire doors, impact protection products and hardware that can extend the life of fire doors, so where doors are likely to be subject to heavy use, the specification must meet the demands of the door’s location. Maintenance teams that have the knowledge and resources to procure the most suitable products will be able to reduce costs in the long run.

In summary

Valuable resources can be better targeted by ensuring that maintenance addresses those fire doors most vital to fire safety at the buildings. Update fire risk assessments to take account of changes of use to rooms at the building and to help identify the critical fire door locations. Ensure the fire door maintenance teams or contractors are suitably qualified in terms of skills and training and that specifications for new doors take full account of durability requirements as well as the fire and cold smoke performance.

Neil Ashdown is managing director of Fire Doors Complete Limited. They provide fire door inspection, training and consultancy services.

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