Competent Fire Door Inspections Save Lives And Money

Fire safety is my job so when I see fire doors as I walk around the University I am, even subconsciously, carrying out a quick risk assessment in my head.  Would that door, in a fire, provide adequate fire and smoke separation.  And another question, what is the purpose of that fire door?  Does it provide protection for an escape route or does it provide fire and smoke protection in sleeping quarters to keep students safe until they can be safely evacuated?  Does the fire door need to be a fire door or was it, like many, needlessly marked with a sign “Fire Door Keep Shut” by a lazy or misguided builder back when the building was constructed?

These are the questions that Fire Safety Officers and Estates Managers have to ask themselves on a daily basis.  And important questions they are too, after all every door is an asset and every door represents a maintenance issue.

The introduction of the 2005 “Fire Safety Order” made it necessary to find answers to these and many more questions, so there is obviously a legal responsibility.  But we who work in Universities have always had a social and moral responsibility to protect the users and occupants of our buildings in a fire situation too.  Those occupants or building users certainly won’t be thinking about fire separation and safe escape as they go around the building, so our job as fire safety professionals and Building Managers is to make sure that our fire doors provide effective protection.  That brings us to the identification of fire doors as well as suitable inspections and maintenance to meet our obligations.  Managing a modern university building, like any large and complex building, is a multi-faceted task.  There’s the safety of the occupants, ease of use of the facilities, protection of the assets and of course there are financial constraints that play a huge part in how we achieve the first three in that list.

So, turning to the doors at Sheffield, they need to provide safety, convenience and protection for building users and this needs to be delivered effectively and within budget.  Certainly if the doors are neglected they will fail on all counts so an effective maintenance programme is essential.  In my view fire safety must be handled only by those qualified to do so and the “Responsible Person “ is under a legal obligation to obtain assistance from the “Competent Person” as referenced by the Regulatory Reform “Fire Safety” Order 2005. 

My role here as the University Fire Safety Officer is to act as that competent person. But if elsewhere this ‘competency’ is in-house or is brought in as a consultant, they must provide legal compliance as specialists in their field and can be tasked with providing the services the University requires within a budget that has been set.  In other words the competent person will help to provide legal compliance, help identify which doors need to be fire doors, provide a detailed inspection on the suitability and condition of fire doors, provide clear and concise details of any remedial action that may be required and make recommendations about how the University can meet their objectives and therefore achieve cost savings in the future.

We must bear in mind that fire doors are unlike normal doors.  It cannot be assumed that every type of fire door is suitable for use in (say) a double door configuration or double swing action such as in the case of cross-corridor doors.  It is not just a case of changing one damaged door leaf, doors may be of differing core construction types and should be changed as a pair with doors having relevant fire performance certification.  Likewise with door hardware, the type of self-closing device that may be used will depend on the door core’s construction. 

Installation is another consideration and unlike normal doors a fire door must be installed In accordance with the fire door manufacturer’s instructions and BS8214:2008.  These are just three examples of the many issues that only competent people with relevant qualifications will be fully aware of.

At the University of Sheffield, we are ensuring that we have access to those correct competences and this is why we are working with the Fire Door Inspection Scheme.  We have thousands of doors, many of which are fire doors or escape doors and we need to ascertain, as part of our fire risk assessment and fire strategy, which doors should be fire doors.  We then need to identify and label them correctly with the mandatory fire door signage.  Then we require an effective inspection and maintenance programme, which means having access to people with the skills required to carry out repairs and installation of new fire doors as necessary.  This can only be done effectively and legally by having access to qualified, competent persons. 

Since meeting Neil Ashdown, General Manager of the Fire Door Inspection Scheme, at the USHA Fire Seminar we have enrolled key university employees on the FDIS Diploma in fire doors and the classroom based FDIS Fire Door Awareness Course. 

The Fire Door Inspection Scheme was launched in February 2012 as a joint initiative by the British Woodworking Federation Certifire Scheme and the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers.  It provides education and training to people that work with or advice in any way on fire doors and fire safety. 

Paul Salter is Fire Safety Officer at the University of Sheffield a role he took up after retiring from South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue service where he worked for more than 29 years. 

Initially working as a firefighter Paul progressed through the ranks holding a number of positions including Fire Investigation Officer, Hazardous Materials Officer and CBRN response Officer.

For the last 15 years of his service he worked within the Technical Fire Safety section, progressing to the position of Head of Fire Safety within South Yorkshire.