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Industry must do better in ensuring door closers do the job!

Door closer

At the end of last year – and following the Grenfell Fire tragedy – the Door & Hardware Federation (DHF) issued a number of press releases stressing the importance of compartmentation and called for crucial changes in building regulations, urging the UK government to adopt and enforce a mandatory requirement for all fire doors to be complete doorsets manufactured and certified by a third-party accreditation scheme, installed by a third-party accredited installer and maintained by a third-party accredited company.  

/media/news/library/michael-skelding.jpgThe Tamworth-based organisation, widely respected as the industry’s independent authoritative voice, has been tirelessly lobbying for appropriate qualification of those responsible for manufacture, installation, repair and maintenance and welcomed recommendations made in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’s Interim Report, published on 18 December, in particular, that those working on the design, construction, inspection and maintenance of complex and high-risk buildings are suitably qualified. 

DHF represents companies manufacturing, installing and maintaining fire-and smoke-resisting doors, including pedestrian hinged/pivoted doors and rolling shutters and, accordingly, their members have experience of working with many parts of the supply chain including architects, building contractors, facilities management companies and owners/occupiers of premises.  But a number of their members are now voicing their concern over a thorny issue extensively recognised across the industry as requiring improvement: the poor state of door closers found on some fire-resisting doorsets. 

“Although the initial investigation of the recent tragic fire at Grenfell Tower has understandably focused on the role of the cladding, survivors’ accounts published in the media make it clear that there was also a major failure of internal fire/smoke compartmentation in that the central stairwell became full of smoke at a relatively early stage, which se/media/news/library/michaels-quote-2.jpgems to have been a major contributor to the loss of life,” explains DHF’s General Manager and Secretary, Michael Skelding.  “It would therefore seem probable that failures of self-closing fire/smoke doors will be found to have played a part in this.  The role of the door closer in ensuring that fire-and smoke-resisting doors are closed properly is a critical one. 

“This is an on-going point of concern and an issue that has frequently arisen in recent DHF meetings,” he continues, “It is too often the case that door closers are incorrectly specified or badly installed, with the result that the door may not operate correctly.  Lack of maintenance often exacerbates the problem.  It’s a challenge that urgently needs addressing.”

What is required, according to Skelding, is greater understanding industry-wide as to what a correctly specified, installed and maintained fire door closer must be able to do; ie, close the fire door from any angle and against the resistance of any latches or seals in the event of fire; ensure that the closing is controlled in accordance with the requirements of the relevant standards: EN 1154, EN 1155, EN1158, EN 1634 and, if applicable, BS 8300; and maintain the integrity of the system in that the closer must not itself present any additional fire hazard or impair the integrity of the door or frame.

“DHF holds the view that as an industry, we’re ‘getting it wrong” he says,  “either by choosing the wrong product because of a lack of understanding, choosing the right product but experiencing problems when this gets changed owing to, for example, costs, or choosing the right product, but then having it incorrectly installed and maintained.  Door closers are one of the most complex architectural ironmongery products as well as, from a fire compartmentation perspective, one of the most important, so it is clear that greater clarity would help to resolve any potential issues.”

In addition, information surrounding testing and certification is not always straightforward, with the European product standard for controlled door closing devices classifying the products in ways that are not always helpful to the specifier or user.  Questions can arise over the suitability of certain door closers for use on fire-resisting doors and whether a particular closer is suitable for a particular doorset in a particular location.  The data on the EN 1154 and EN 1634 test reports would be useful but is not generally available and would need an expert to interpret.

“Another issue with CE marking (EN 1154 as a point in case) is that people trade one product against another, believing them to be the same,” continues Skelding.  “There is a reason why door closers range from £10 to £100 and we must remember that a CE Mark only ensures that a ‘minimum’ level of performance is achieved. For a particular application you may need a far better performing product.

“From our experience, the biggest danger with CE marking is that it can give a false sense of security. If we just look at the 4th digit of the performance classification under EN1154, which is for fire behaviour, if there is a ‘1’ present, it doesn’t mean that that particular door closer is suitable for all fire doors, it ONLY means that there is some form of fire test evidence. It doesn’t, for example, clarify door type (timber or metal), fixing position, functions (latch, backcheck & delayed action valves) or alternative accessories (bracketry or guide rails) and can even misrepresent the power sizes.  As stated earlier, you would have to trawl through the test evidence or ask for clarification from your supplier, hoping they have the knowledge or access to this information.

“In order to comply with the Equality Act 2010 (which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) it will generally be necessary for fire doors to comply with the requirements of BS 8300.  This includes a maximum opening force exerted by the user to open the door.  Careful choice of closer for /media/news/library/michaels-quote.jpg a specific doorset is essential, but the information provided to users is often inadequate and difficult to decipher.  There is some evidence to suggest that testing by different notified bodies is not as consistent as we would wish.  Similarly, sales literature is frequently inconsistent and installation instructions can lack clarity and often fail to distinguish between different applications and even different models of closer.  The result is a bit of a minefield for installer or user!”

Current statistics with regards to safety also make unsettling reading. 

“A door closer reaches its optimum performance following 5,000 cycles and will generally need re-adjusting,” explains Skelding, “but alarmingly, we have no evidence of this being carried out anywhere.  Furthermore, it was identified that in new-build applications, the door closers were, generally, installed prior to the full commissioning of the building, so no allowance was made for pressure differentials or temperature change from HVAC, flooring (catching the doorset and/or altering the closing pressure) or other factors.”

DHF’s recommendations are very much in line with their on-going campaigning for manufacturing, certification, installation and maintenance of potentially dangerous products to be undertaken only by third-party accredited bodies.  With support from DHF and other key organisations such as the Fire Protection Association and NHBC, it is hoped that the industry can start to progress toward a system that promotes improved testing and third-party certification. 

“Improvements to the European standards are clearly desirable, but likely to take time.  Lobbying through BSI standards committee B/538/4 and the European federation for lock and hardware manufacturers, ARGE, is possible.  And better enforcement action against misleading claims would be beneficial, although a lack of resources in local authority trading standards departments, responsible for enforcement of the Construction Products Regulations 2013, is an issue,” says Skelding. 

“If we were able to achieve any number of these objectives, this would undoubtedly herald a simplification of selection for an installer or end user, reducing risk; the promotion of basic checking and maintenance of the product in use, reducing risk and increasing awareness and most importantly, an increase in fire safety performance for the most important fire-compartmentation product on the doorset.  It is important to understand that failure to adhere to proper safety regulations can not only result in loss of life, but in legal implications.

“There is of course help and guidance out there, be that through the DHF, its members, reputable manufacturers and other trade bodies; we’d urge anyone and at any point in the chain to seek advice if they’re unsure or just want peace of mind.”

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Door & Hardware Federation, The Barn, Shuttington Fields Farm, Main Road, Shuttington, Tamworth, B79 0HA
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