Fire Safety – Not Decent Homes – to Drive Social Housing Door Replacement Initiatives
Published: 2nd August 2011
With 49,600 fires in dwellings reported in the latest edition of the national Fire Statistics, leading to a tragic 353 deaths, fire safety is an increasingly important issue for social housing landlords, as Adrian Sunter, from leading door manufacturer, Permadoor explains:
“Every social housing landlord takes their duty of care for resident’s health and safety extremely seriously and fire risk should be one of the most important priorities. Yet there is a growing concern in some quarters that changing specifications, a focus on residents’ preferences and now budget cutbacks are distracting attention from this vital area. The review of the fire door stock needs to come in to line with the substantial upgrading of many dwellings during the Decent Homes refurbishment programme. On paper, in most local authorities and social housing providers, risk assessments are in place and the “boxes have been ticked”.
The reality “on the ground” on too many estates may well be very different, with rubbish accumulating in stair wells and other public access areas, fire doors being wedged open for resident convenience and broken or damaged door hardware, especially missing door closers. Indeed in February this year, Peter Holland, President of the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) urged members of the public to be vigilant following an increase in the numbers of dwelling fires, fire deaths and injuries reported by some fire and rescue services across the UK in the winter period. CFOA estimates that current trends are indicating an increase of around 30% in the numbers of dwelling fires, fire deaths and injuries.
Residents can also be very complacent about fire risk. Given most residents the choice of improvements to kitchens, bathrooms or décor, they will opt for those visible improvements over the installation of fire doors, fires screens, smoke detectors and other ‘safety first’ essentials. This is not to deny the importance of involving communities in decisions affecting their homes, simply a reminder of the importance of educating residents about the risks involved and the real priorities. Fire safety officers are also concerned that the austerity measures called for in the Comprehensive Spending Review will also reduce the Fire Services capacity to respond to future incidents as Peter Holland stated at a recent conference:
“Clearly in an era of public spending cuts, Fire Authorities will be required to make some very difficult decisions. Providing the same, or indeed better, level of service with fewer resources will be extremely challenging for all. Most Fire Authorities have been subjected to cuts to their grant funding, which will undoubtedly result in job losses. Clearly, with staffing costs making up over 80% of Fire Authorities expenses, losing staff is an inevitable consequence of public spending reductions.”
Given that social housing providers are facing their own cuts, which will have an impact on local community housing teams and on maintenance and repair budgets, the potential for the situation to get worse rather than better, is all too clear. The best guidance on fire safety in social housing comes in the 82 pages of the “Housing – Fire Safety” guidance document published by Local Government Regulation (formerly the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services or LACORS.)
This document stresses, among many factors, the importance of having ‘barriers’ to fire progress which will give residents time to make their escape and which will also ‘protect’ exit routes as much as possible. It also highlights the dangers of “upgrading” existing doors to meet fire safety specifications rather than installing new purpose designed and tested fire doors which is a practice that is fortunately rare today but could make a dangerous “come-back” as budget cuts hit. To quote the guide:
“The upgrading of non-fire-resisting door assemblies should be avoided wherever possible. The practice is generally impractical and uneconomic and is reliant upon strict adherence to an approved specification and upon a high standard of workmanship. Replacement with suitable, purpose designed and tested doorset constructions is always preferable.”
Another potentially fatal budget saving measure is to skimp on using fire doors in so called “ low risk” areas in a dwelling but again the guidance document indicates there are real risks with this approach. In lower risk premises where a full 30-minute protected route is not required it should be possible to accept existing, well fitted and constructed solid doors, providing they are in sound condition. Solid timber doors and panelled doors of substantial construction may be adequate in these lower risk situations. Non- fire-resisting glazed doors, doors of flimsy construction or hollow infill-type doors (commonly known as ‘egg- box’) should not be accepted. This can be difficult to assess and expert advice may be required.
When you consider the reputational risk alone of a fire which leads to resident fatalities, never mind the financial consequences and the human suffering, it is clear that fire and safety spending needs to be maintained and that fire doors are a critical element in any housing maintenance programme. In turn, the leading door manufacturers also have a role to play by developing the products and services that maintain safety while delivering efficiencies and savings to hard-pressed social landlords. For example, at Permadoor, the leading composite door manufacturer, intensive development work has led to the creation of a 1200mm fire rated screen/side panel to complement the range of fire doors, providing a time saving solution to a common problem in properties with common entrance areas. This is part of the Premier Fire Door Range, which features a thermoplastic or GRP faced fire resisting composite door leaf of nominal 44mm thickness supplied pre-hung in a standard 70mm PVC-U outerframe incorporating a fire sealing system.
In the social housing sector, Permadoor was the first composite door supplier to manufacture double glazed PVC-U side light or top light frame that has been successfully tested to FD30S, improving aesthetics without compromising on safety. Permadoor has also developed a range of contract management services to help social housing providers with planning and implementing projects as well as offering an “emergency call off, ex-stock service” for specific ranges tailored to each client. The company also barcodes all doors in a discrete, hidden location on the door which contains all the door construction and hardware details, so there is full traceability and helps to make re-ordering replacement parts simple and convenient.
In summary, maintaining investment in fire doors is of paramount importance for resident safety, even as the Decent Homes spending starts to decline. Plus, with the latest aesthetically appealing door designs and colour options, residents can still be satisfied as well as staying safe!￩ Back to News Page