Richard Sutton, General Manager at Horbury Property Services, looks at the importance of passive systems, such as fire doors and other fire compartmentation.
“For many building owners, businesses and landlords, fire safety starts with the fire risk assessment. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) order 2005 requires that this must be carried out by a competent person… someone with ‘sufficient training and experience or knowledge’. But the question many people are asking is, how do you determine how much training, knowledge or experience is enough? Many organisations are not aware of any third party accreditations for fire risk assessors, or simply don’t know or check just what is required to become a good fire risk assessor.
Obviously practical experience counts for a great deal, as does having an understanding of building regulations, construction methods and building materials, which allows the assessor to better judge the risks. There have been cases that have gone through the courts that have involved fire risk assessors being jailed for failing to carry out a suitable fire risk assessment. Without adequate training and the relevant knowledge and observational skills, it is highly likely that breaches of passive or active fire protection measures will go undetected in social housing.
Take, for example, fire doors. A typical fire risk assessment of a set of fire doors requires only a visual inspection – it does not require that every door is inspected. According to FDIS (Fire Door Inspection Scheme) potential punishments for fire door related convictions can include up to two years in jail and unlimited fines.
The reason that fire doors are failing in such large numbers is that any problems are not being picked up in fire inspections, or thorough inspections are not being carried out by the responsible person. Without adequate training, a person would not be able to know whether a fire door would fail, or whether it would perform as it should, offering adequate protection in the event of a fire.
The Exova BM Trada certified course is one that is widely recognised and respected in the fire safety industry and housing providers should check that their contractors are certified to meet this standard.
If fire door inspections are not being carried out by fully approved and certified individuals, how can building occupants and owners be safe in the knowledge that they are being given the best protection. Often as part of the fire risk assessment, a small sample of fire doors are given a visual inspection. If the individual is untrained, they are unlikely to pick up any faults with the fire door and could lead to a building having several doorsets that are not compliant. In the case of a fire, this could be a very serious situation that is putting lives at risk and resulting in serious consequences and fines. Often after fire door inspections, remedial works may be required to protect occupants and ensure compliance, which needs to be part of regular planned maintenance for a building.
Regular fire door inspections
With the current concerns about fire risks in residential and commercial buildings, then there is a very real need to prioritise inspection of fire doors to ensure that remedial work can be carried out as quickly as possible.
Indeed, there is a lack of understanding about the need for fully certified fire doors. Budgetary pressures again may mean that an inferior fire door is specified which may not be certified to perform to either 30 or 60 minutes’ fire resistance. This could mean that it does not meet that building’s minimum fire safety requirements.
The same is true of fire compartmentation. This needs to be considered as part of the overall fire risk assessment. However, this is often not given due consideration as the responsible person in most cases will not have the skills or understanding to be able to carry this out effectively. As fire compartmentation requires just a visual inspection, it needs specialist skills, expertise and equipment.
It is not just fire doors that are critical to maintaining fire compartmentation in buildings. A local authority building that we inspected recently was found to have 168 breaches to its fire compartmentation. A thorough inspection of its fire compartmentation had not been carried out since it was built. Most of the breaches were due to IT and mechanical work being carried out on the building without the correct fire stopping being put in place. It is surprising how often compartmentation has been breached, which leads to the risk of rapid smoke spread in the event of a fire.
An added concern is how, due to budgetary pressures, remedial work on fire doors is being carried out these days on a responsive basis, rather than as a regular programme of planned preventative maintenance. This has created a bubble of repairs that are required and an increase in the potential risk. If issues are identified, it may be the case that work cannot be carried out for several weeks if a framework of approved contractors is not in place.
It is quite a worry that many public and private buildings are still not being regularly and competently inspected for their fire doors and fire compartmentation.
The fact remains that the fire risk assessment has to be taken seriously. As part of this, only fully trained and certified fire door and passive fire inspectors should be carrying out assessments of fire doors and compartmentation. This will ensure that building are compliant and occupants are offered the best possible protection.”
For more information about fire compartmentation, fire stopping and fire stopping inspections, contact the Horbury Property Services team on: 01709 917555 or visit the website www.horburypropertyservices.com.
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