The greatest consideration regarding fire safety in healthcare premises is clearly patient safety. In the event of a fire, progressive evacuation in stages to safe places is necessary in keeping patients away from the effects of fire and smoke. Therefore the building’s fire and smoke compartmentation is relied upon to restrict the spread of fire and smoke from one part of the building to another.
It is the walls, floors, ceilings and doors that compartmentalise the hospital buildings into a series of compartments to keep the fire in the room or compartment where it started thus maintaining safety for people elsewhere and allowing the fire and rescue service to reach the fire and deal with it.
The difficulty with fire doors is that although, just like the walls, they restrict fire and smoke spread they also have to function as doors in busy areas, opening and closing possibly thousands of times each day. Add to that the likelihood of damage from wheeled trollies and the sheer number of doors at the hospital, and it is easy to see how managing maintenance to a standard where older doors will meet their required fire and smoke ratings can be so challenging for estate departments.
At any large and complex building, it will be necessary to have an efficient inspection and maintenance regime for fire doors. None more so that at a hospital due to the inherent difficulties of evacuating patients. Maintaining fire doors could be seen as something akin to the painting of the Forth Bridge so first, it is necessary examine the fire strategy to see which fire doors are most critical in providing protection to enable safe progressive evacuation.
Having inspected thousands of doors, I have found that one common denominator is that estate departments are not always aware of which fire doors are particularly necessary for safe evacuation. Maintaining fire doors can be a drain on resources so it is vital that the efficient working order of the fire doors lines up with the fire evacuation requirements. The fire doors that must protect escape routes and protect areas providing refuge from the fire are the most critical, the planned preventative maintenance regime must take account of that. In other words, there should be a fire door hierarchy starting with doors critical to the escape and refuge strategy all the way down to doors that although marked with the blue signs may not when compared to the evacuation strategy be so necessary to safety. Dealing with fire safety is ‘risk-based’ so the fire risk assessment must identify escape strategy and therefore identify the compartmentation vital to safe evacuation.
The majority of fire doors are made from timber therefore repairs and maintenance can be carried out by competent carpenters and joiners. However, fire doors are different from ordinary doors especially regarding working tolerances, seals and door hardware so maintenance teams should be aware that work must be carried out in accordance with the relevant standards.
BS 8214: 2016 is the code of practice for timber-based fire doors so installers and maintenance teams should adhere to such guidance along with other documents such as code of practices and guidance for hardware, seals and glazing. Healthcare Technical Memoranda also provide guidance on specification and design to building components specific to healthcare, including doors in HTM58.
Estates departments should therefore ensure that repairs, maintenance and new door installation work comply with necessary standards.
Where a fire door must be replaced due to severe damage or as part of refurbishment works the opportunity arises to ensure new doors will meet the necessary durability requirements as well as the correct fire rating. There are many types of fire doors, impact protection products and hardware that can extend the life of fire doors so where doors are likely to be subject to heavy use, the specification must meet the demands of the door’s location.
It is worth consulting fire door specialists to ensure the doors are suitable for the intended application. In many instances, doors are too easily damaged and fail to provide sufficient resistance to heavy use, soon becoming unsightly and compromising fire and smoke protection.
The fire performance of the new door must be considered. There may be a requirement for large-sized door leaves to provide access to specialist equipment or security hardware for sensitive areas. In those cases it is wise to consult fire door specialists otherwise fire certification can all too easily become void and fire performance jeopardised by incorrect specification, non-fire-rated hardware and incorrect installation.
Valuable resources can be better targeted by ensuring that maintenance addresses the fire doors most vital to fire safety at the buildings. Update fire risk assessments to take account of changes of use to rooms at the building and to help identify the critical fire door locations. Ensure the fire door maintenance teams or contractors are suitably qualified in terms of experience and training and that specifications for new doors take full account of durability requirements as well as the door’s fire rating and spread of cold smoke performance.
Neil Ashdown is the managing director of Fire Doors Complete Limited, he provides fire door inspection, consultancy and training services. He holds certificated fire door inspector and fire stopping inspection qualifications.