Why you should take a closer look at fire door certification

The compartmentalisation of a building prevents a fire from spreading into additional rooms and floors while allowing crucial time for occupants to evacuate and fire services to tackle the fire. The process relies on all fire protection components working together to effectively slow the spread of fire throughout an area, but what role do fire doors play?

The life-saving role of fire doors

As an effective passive fire protection product, fire doors fulfil a life-saving role in preventing the spread of smoke and fire for a period relating to their fire classification. A fire door is more than a typical door, it is a complex system of components that must work together to perform in the event of a fire to save lives. The system includes the door leaf, frame, ironmongery and  glazing system.

While fire safety measures, including fire doors, have always been a priority for the construction industry, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has brought the performance of fire rated products under greater scrutiny. Following an investigation into the effectiveness of all fire doors by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), it was found that the timber fire doors tested all met the required standard.

“ Our investigation into timber fire doors which began in October 2018 and has recently been concluded has found no issues with the consistency of fire-resistance performance of the doors tested. “

This is in direct contrast to Glass Reinforced Plastic composite fire doors three quarters of which failed MHCLG tests..

“The government’s investigation into Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) composite fire doors identified issues with the consistency of fire-resistance performance of these doors.”

Fire safety and fire door performance has always been top of the BWF Fire Door Alliance’s agenda, and is why we believe it’s vital to use fire doors that are third-party certificated.

A focus on third-party certification

Third-party certification means that the fire door manufacturer or processor is audited by an independent third party that checks that the product is tested appropriately and produced to a consistent standard. For BWF Fire Door Alliance members, this involves meeting specific criteria:

1. The Fire Test: The fire resistance of the range of door assemblies is determined by subjecting full-sized constructions to a series of tests in accordance with the appropriate fire test standard, BS 476: Part 22 or BS EN 1634-1 at a UKAS accredited test facility, the results of which are used to generate the scope of certification.

2. Auditing the Manufacturing Process: BWF Fire Door Alliance member companies are independently audited by their chosen UKAS accredited product certification body (such as  Warringtonfire Testing & Certification Limited trading as Warringtonfire for Certifire, or BM TRADA for Q-Mark). This ensures that appropriate management and manufacturing processes and systems are in place to provide consistency in the manufacture of the fire door.

3. The Audit Test: The fire door assemblies are subjected to regular scrutiny, with fire resistance testing taking place on sampled products to ensure that the performance of current production is consistent with the performance established by the initial tests.

The benefits of third-party certification

Third-party certification gives specifiers, local authorities, construction companies and building owners confidence that their fire doors will perform as designed in the event of a fire. Certification also provides added benefits such as visibility and traceability of the door’s pathway through the construction supply chain.

When a fire door is manufactured or modified by a BWF Fire Door Alliance CERTIFIRE certificated member, a label with a unique number is placed on the top edge of the door. The purpose of that number is to provide access to additional information including details of the fire door manufacturer and, where relevant, the Licensed Processor, as well as any documents   related to its certification, specification, and production records.

This allows the original fire door certificate and specification to be sourced, enabling on-site checks to be carried out against the door’s original standards. If this process highlights that any components need replacing, the documents will also outline the parts compatible with the original certification and test requirements to ensure compliance is maintained.

Under the Building Regulations or the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (FSO), proof of the performance  of fire doors can be requested. For this reason, the specification must be adhered to and only compatible components used, otherwise challenges can arise.

Industry responsibilities explored by BWF mock trial

As part of the Fire Door Safety Week campaign, in September 2019 the BWF hosted an interactive mock criminal trial to provide manufacturers of fire safety products, consultants, contractors, designers, installers and duty holders an insight into the possible legal repercussions for them in the event of a fire incident.

The mock trial revealed important lessons for the wider supply chain around responsibility and liability for the failure of fire doors, specifically in cases where there is no third-party certification.

The mock trial found a fictional fire door manufacturer – Prime Timber Doors Limited - guilty of a contravention of Section 6 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974, highlighting the broad legal landscape under which a failure of duty of care could fall. It was ruled that the fictional manufacturer of a glazed timber fire door for use in a workplace failed to:

(a)    ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the door was so designed and constructed that it would be safe and without risks to health at all times when it was being used by a person at work;

(b)   carry out, or arrange for the carrying out, of such testing and examination as may be necessary to ensure  the performance of the fire door and fulfil their duty imposed by the Act

(c)    take such steps as are necessary to secure that persons supplied with the fire door in question are provided with adequate information about any conditions necessary to ensure that it will be safe and without risks to health at all such times (e.g.information in respect of installation).

The legal perspective on certification

The interactive mock trial event brought to light several key issues and especially highlighted the confusion and debate around how the law can be interpreted. While the jury ruled against the fictional manufacturer, several of the failures cited for the verdict,which were designed to simulate where manufacturers could fall foul for real, are avoidable through ensuring fire doors are third party certificated, and that accredited installers are used.

For example, one of the key failures was the culpable firm’s reliance on the assessment of one of the components of the fire door assembly, that had expired. If a fire door manufacturer has third-party certification, it means that specifiers and building owners can be guaranteed that evidence has been independently provided, without them having to rely on the word of the manufacturer.

The importance of using an accredited and experienced fire door installer to ensure that fire doors are installed to the manufacturer’s guidance was also highlighted. Installation of a fire door is very different to hanging a standard interior door and correct installation, following the manufacturer’s guidance, means that the fire door will perform as designed in the event of a fire.

The legal responsibility for product performance is held throughout the supply chain. By being thorough, and seeking accredited installers and third-party certificated products, there is a clear demonstration of going above and beyond the minimum requirements to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The repercussions of being found guilty can include fines, which can have a dramatic impact on the financial stability of a company, and in certain cases, personal liability. Neither of which are covered by a company’s insurance.

The law relating to the responsibility of the supply chain following a fire is open to interpretation and therefore confusion. Leaving stakeholders at risk of legal action which they may not believe is justifiable. Taking a positive step forward,  the Fire Safety Bill and the draft Building Safety Bill will hopefully remove confusion surrounding legal responsibilities within the construction industry. This will help provide clarity for the industry by defining the  person or organisation responsible for fire door specification, procurement, installation, maintenance, inspection and documentation.

At the BWF we welcomed the Government’s  publication, last year, of Building safety advice for building owners, including fire doors. In this guidance there is the recommendation for the owners of buildings of which it has been confirmed that the external wall system does not meet an appropriate standard of safety to;

 ““replace any non-fire-resisting doors (such as non- fire-resisting PVCu doors) immediately with doorsets that are third party certificated as providing at least 30 minutes’ [sic] fire resistance.”

We hope that this is the first step towards enshrining in legislation the independent third-party certification  of fire door assemblies

The performance of a fire door can be the difference between life and death in the unfortunate event of a fire. By working with a licensed door processor or prime door manufacturer, such as a BWF Fire Door Alliance member, building managers and owners can be reassured and confident that fire doors will perform as designed to contain the fire, helping to save lives.

For more information, please visit: https://firedoors.bwf.org.uk/

Kevin Underwood
Technical Director of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF)