As the role of door hardware expands and fire safety continues to make the headlines, Karen Trigg of Allegion UK outlines the importance of hardware selection and reminds decision makers of how routine checks can save lives.
Door hardware is more than just a cosmetic consideration. In fact, it plays a role in the operational integrity of a building, and more crucially, is a key element of a facility’s fire safety and security.
Fire doors and their accompanying hardware in particular, require special attention. Install equipment that’s ineffecient and suddenly you could put a whole building’s network of fire safety measures at risk. And in light of this year’s debate on the government’s planned fire safety reforms, the importance of fire door hardware is now more valued than ever.
The expanding role of hardware is also giving decision makers extra considerations to make when choosing hardware. From ease of integration to the flow of movement – various factors can dictate a decision, potentially overwhelming some. Yet, decision makers must remember that they have a responsibility to ensure both a door and its hardware operate effectively – even after installation.
A change in culture
Fire doors are designed to protect occupants from the spread of fire, smoke and toxic fumes. Because of this, hardware (including handles, closers and hinges) must meet certain standards and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements.
However, phase one of the Grenfell Inquiry has once again reminded us that not all buildings are meeting these requirements. In fact, detailed Grenfell reports have raised questions over the integrity of the fire doors, focusing on the failure of compartmentalisation and broken self-closing mechanisms on flat entrance doors. With incorrect hardware selection or failed maintenance to blame, this case, like many others, should become the catalyst for change – before the safety of others is jeopardised.
Today, hardware is designed to adapt and tackle almost all fire safety, security and operational challenges that a building can throw its way. From access and emergency egress elements to the more unique and defined details such as flow of movement, its importance simply can’t be understated. But too often, as with other purchasing decisions, cost can sometimes triumph over quality.
With this in mind, industry experts are calling for a change in fire safety culture. Although there are various elements and touchpoints to consider, one area that must change quickly is how we choose our door hardware. Manufacturers, architectural ironmongers and installers must all recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ solution doesn’t exist and, instead, make adequate, proactive choices.
It never has been acceptable to install substandard equipment. We must build on industry education and move away from reactive decisions because fire safety requires extra consideration – even after a decision on hardware has been made.
Even with the correct door hardware in place, operational life can be significantly reduced if basic maintenance is neglected. Previously, best practice guidelines have suggested that the performance of self-closers should be checked once every six months. However, in line with the failings of various buildings, the ‘Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’ has proposed quarterly fire door checks as part of their updated fire safety reforms.
From door furniture to panic and emergency exit hardware, building owners must ensure all doors are well kept and operational to meet health and safety requirements. Most entrances endure repeated use, especially in buildings with a high footfall, which means durability can sometimes become an issue. However, both occupants and qualified teams can undertake a number of hardware checks as part of regular maintenance periods.
Visual inspections can determine whether a door and its hardware has attained any damage. Both the physical door and its surrounding frame and hardware can become damaged over time. However, if its functionality is being effected, the damaged area should be replaced immediately.
Functional checks are also key to maintaining a door’s fire safety and operational elements. These checks will reveal whether hardware is still operating effectively, without requiring any undue force. Seals or weatherstripping can sometimes become loose and inhibit the correct operation of a fire door and may need to be replaced. Similarly, some fixings may need to be tightened to ensure that the door can swing freely. By completing these checks, not only will facility managers expand the lifespan of their hardware, but they’ll also protect the lives of occupants.
Simply put, the choice of hardware will always be integral in the success of a facility’s fire safety. With various high profile failings being publicised it’s clear that a change in approach to fire safety is long overdue. With the development of new fire safety reforms, we now should be guiding those responsible to better standards within their own buildings. After all, it only takes the failure of one designated fire door to spell disaster.