Understanding recent Government statements around fire doors and fire safety

Following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower last year, fire safety has become a major area of focus throughout the construction industry. The safety ratings of fire doors have not gone without scrutiny, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has issued a series of press releases on the topic.

These statements are the outcome of the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the Grenfell fire and the Hackitt Report, and they have generated a considerable number of questions and concerns within the door industry. They have also resulted in at least four companies having to withdraw their products from the market due to their failure to meet requisite fire performance standards.

Here at Stairways, we’ve noticed increased concern from our colleagues in the building industry and in recent weeks, we’ve received numerous calls from specifiers seeking a timber substitution that complies with the latest guidance.

As a member of a third-party certificated scheme, we follow the rules of BWF Certifire and the relevant Technical Schedules. We also carry out regular factory production audits and fire tests. We’ve been recommending our SecurDor range of PAS 24-rated doorsets as a potential solution for compliant fire doors, and we’ve also put together the following article to help answer some of the big questions surrounding MHCLG’s statements.

What did the statements say?

The first statement from the MHCLG came on March 15th. It noted that all the flat entrance doors on Grenfell had been fire-tested and failed the 30-minute test – the doors failed after about 15 minutes. The letter also mentioned that further testing would need to be carried out.

On July 31st and August 1st, three further documents were issued:

1. Action to address recent fire door issues – This was a press release, which reiterated statements made in March and confirmed that further testing had been done on doors from additional manufacturers, finding that their doors also failed when tested on both sides.
2. Advice for building owners on assurance and replacing of flat entrance fire doors – This provided advice for building owners on assurance and the replacement of flat entrance fire doors. Aimed at anyone responsible for the fire safety or residential flats, the document highlighted issues such as the importance of working self-closers on fire doors, regular maintenance and smoke/fire resistance.
3. Fire door tests circular letter – The purpose of this departmental circular letter was to draw attention to recent issues arising from fire door tests. However, it also seems to have increased uncertainty and ambiguity around the topic, as some parts of the letter contradict previous statements, or are unclear.

The circular letter also raised the question of testing fire doors from both sides and symmetry of doors – and this is the issue that has really caught the attention of the industry. The letter states that, according to Approved Document B, the requirement for test exposure is from each side of the door separately.

“It has come to the Department’s attention that some fire resisting door sets are being marketed on the basis of a single fire resistance test on one side of the door,” the letter says.

It continues: “Most door sets are not truly symmetrical and as such, testing on both sides is necessary to demonstrate compliance with the approved document. This is particularly the case for complex door constructions such as those found in double glazed and composite door sets.”

Based on our experience, 90% of fire certification does not state that doors are certificated in both directions, nor does it mention opening direction. The certification and assessment rules that the industry uses allows the assessment of doors that are of symmetrical construction to be covered in both directions, as long as the doors are tested on the most onerous side. In the case of a timber door, this is with the door opening inward, towards the fire.

BWF Certifire has also released a statement, noting that the ambiguity of the above documents has resulted in projects being delayed and deliveries being returned. It also warns: “We are concerned that this is not only delaying projects, but also putting members of the public at risk as critical fire safety improvements are being prevented.”

How do doors from Stairways fit into all of this?

At the time of writing, several other manufacturers have had to remove their fire doors from the market. None of our fire doors were purchased from those suppliers.

We can’t say for sure why the doors from other manufacturers failed the test, since that information is not currently available. However, BWF Certifire has stated that it believes the concerns raised by MHCLG were “based on a limited amount of testing on predominantly composite doorsets.” Since composite doors are more likely to not be of symmetrical construction, it may have been necessary for them to be tested from both directions.

Here at Stairways, our fire doors are designed with a completely symmetrical design, including any glazing. As members of a third-party certificated scheme, we follow the rules set within the BWF Certifire scheme and the relevant Technical Schedules, including TS10.

Section 6.3 of TS10 states: “Where separating elements are required to be fire resisting from both sides, normally two specimens shall be tested (one from each direction) unless the element is fully symmetrical.”

For more information about the fire and smoke resistance of our doors, copies of our certification can be supplied upon request.

Where can I get more information about fire door safety and compliance?

While there has been an extensive amount of attention surrounding the topic of fire doors and fire safety, definite answers can still be difficult to come by. Things seem to change on a daily basis sometimes, and there are still a number of grey areas surrounding both the government’s statements and the certification rules. Here are a couple of resources that could help answer your questions and keep you updated:

Gov.ukRecent documents and publications relating to fire doors
BWF CertifireLatest news

In addition, you can always get in touch with the team here at Stairways. We’re keeping a close watch on how this issue is developing, and we’ll be happy to discuss your project and its requirements in greater detail to help you make the best choice.

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