Following on from the Grenfell fire last year the spotlight has been rightly shone on the practices and procedures used in construction industry and the culture of ‘cheapest is best’. In the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, Dame Judith Hackitt pointed out that in addition to the shortfalls listed above the testing, certification, labelling and marketing of construction products leaves a lot to be desired and she recommended in her report that this is made more transparent, simplified and clarified.
In truth the target for her comments mainly related to cladding and the systems used in external walls and the confusion surrounding the various British and European fire tests and classes used to demonstrate the fire performance; and also the ‘requirements’ in the statutory guidance Approved Document B. We all now know that the use of an Aluminium Composite Material with an unmodified (flame retarded) polyethylene core is wholly unsuitable for that application.
But what has this got to do with fire doors? We know from the BRE investigative report leaked in April that many of the fire doors at Grenfell did not function properly and that a significant reason for this was due to a number of factors not relating to the product including doors closers being removed or deactivated. A fire door recovered from Grenfell Tower as part of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) investigation was tested and found to fail long before the 30 minute mark, initiating the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) study.
We have also learnt that doors from five or six manufacturers tested by MHCLG failed in some recent testing and that is leading some to cast doubt on the fire door industry as a whole and the system of testing and certification. ASFP believes that for the most part this concern is not justified.
MHCLG has recently issued a letter https://is.gd/YqneUR stating that if doors that are asymmetrical they must be tested from both sides as required by AD-B. This is because they have discovered that many doors are marketed on the basis of testing from one side only and there are concerns as to the fire performance from the untested direction.
Yet single sided testing is permitted by both the British Standard for fire door testing BS 476 Part 22: 1987 and the newer European Standard BS EN 1634-1: 2014 provided the worst case can be identified. In the British Standard it is not explained how the worst case is determined, but it allows for it and mostly this is provided in the form of an opinion from the testing laboratory. In the European standard, the situation is much clearer and that there are direct application rules written in the standard identifying the worst case and permitting testing from one direction only. So, provided the door falls into certain well established types where the worst case can be identified (regular solid cored timber doors, steel doors etc) there is no need and no reason to test from both sides. The timber and metal doors industries have legitimately and justifiably used single side testing to demonstrate the fire performance of their products for over 30 years.
However, in recent years a newer type of ‘composite’ door made from GRP, foam and other materials have come to be used because they are lightweight, easy to handle and less expensive. Because they are a relatively recent development not a great deal is known about their fire performance compared to e.g. timber or metal doors. Composite doors are specifically excluded from the rules for direct application given in the European standard to determine the worst side for testing and consequently testing from both sides is required by the standard.
However, the letter from MHCLG stipulating testing from both sides does not discriminate between regular well established door types e.g. timber or metal doors and newer types such as composite doors; all fall under the same instruction. The effect of the letter is that the established industry is in turmoil with deliveries being turned away and projects halted because testing has not been undertaken from both sides despite the fact that this is simply not needed. And then there is the situation for occupants who are living in these buildings with an already identified fire door risk. What are they to do?
Fire doors – usually made from timber or metal have been an integral part of fire safety for over 50 years. There are countless examples of fire doors holding back fire and safely maintaining compartmentation. This is a robust and well established technology. The situation in which a handful of tests which may or may not have failed significantly on a door type that has no long term history of testing and assessment should not prejudice a whole industry with a good record of providing life safety products.