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Is it illegal to wedge open a fire door?

Is it illegal to wedge open a fire door?

It is dangerous to wedge or prop open a fire door as the safety of occupants cannot be guaranteed if there is a fire. Fire doors need to be closed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke.

Legally, if you wedge open a fire door and it is judged that this puts someone’s life at risk, you could suffer penalties, including a fine or even a prison sentence.

Why are fire doors necessary?

Fire doors are a vital part of a building’s fire strategy, and can only do their job if they are closed. They are specially designed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke through a building so people can evacuate safely and the building is protected from damage.

A wedge prevents a door from closing, which means fire can spread, putting all occupants in danger. Fire doors are clearly marked with a sign stating ‘Fire door, keep shut’. If you see a fire door that is held open, whether that’s with a door wedge, fire extinguisher, chair, pot plant or anything else, you need to make sure the obstruction is removed so the door stays closed.

Invalidating insurance

In the event of a fire, it is quite possible that an insurer would be unwilling to pay for damages when a door has been wedged or propped open. The majority of fire doors will hold a fire in a room for 30 minutes by which time the Fire & Rescue service will be on site. Wedging open doors can, and has, caused a chimney effect, which causes fire to spread rapidly, destroying entire buildings.

Wedging or propping open a fire door can prove devastating as it allows fire to spread unchecked, putting lives and buildings at risk. Despite this, 64% of premises visited by the Fire Service have fire doors wedged open.

But it’s not as simple as saying don’t wedge that door. We want fire doors open, as they are a nuisance in everyday life. We know they can be heavy, cause obstruction and even injuries.

Why do people wedge open fire doors?

Despite the dangers and risk of legal penalties for wedging open fire doors, people still do it. Closed doors are a pain. They get in the way if you’re trying to carry a tray of drinks or your luggage. They hinder access if you’re using a wheelchair or walking stick or pushing a buggy. They can cause a room to be hot and stuffy by restricting the flow of air.

Fire doors are heavy and can be a struggle to get through. They can be difficult to open, particularly for frailer people, those with mobility issues, or young children at schools and nurseries.

However leaving fire doors wedged or propped open disregards the safety of others. It is also against the law. The only safe way for fire doors to be held open is with special devices that release them to close automatically when the fire alarm is activated.

When fire doors are wedged or propped open, businesses are at risk of fines, but more seriously, it puts people’s lives in danger. Don’t pay the price of the door wedge.

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How to prevent the spread of fire

How to prevent the spread of fire

After the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, fire safety is an issue on everyone’s minds. Questions are being asked about inadequate safety measures causing fire to spread rapidly through buildings with large numbers of occupants.

The Grenfell Tower investigation is ongoing, but clearly fire protection measures either failed or were not there in the first place. It is important to address how disasters like this can avoided in the future.

Keeping fire contained

To prevent a fire from spreading, different sections of a building must be built as fire-resistant compartments. This means they will resist the passage of fire for a specified period of time. If a fire is contained in a compartment, it won’t spread to other parts of the building. People can evacuate safely and firefighters can extinguish the fire.

In a tower block, for instance, each flat should be a separate, fire resistant compartment. This would ensure that if one resident started a fire, it would not spread to other flats for a specified amount of time (usually 30 minutes).

Day-to-day, the most important way for a building’s occupants to keep a building safe is through keeping fire doors closed. Fire doors are specially made to resist fire for a certain amount of time and keep the fire contained within that compartment. If the door is open, the fire will spread rapidly. This is why wedging open fire doors is so dangerous.

Compartmentation keeps a fire contained, giving time for emergency services to deal with the situation. People should also be able to evacuate safely and damage to a building is minimised.

Make sure you are aware of holes and gaps in the walls from installing piping and wiring through a building. When you drill holes through a building to run cables and those holes aren’t filled in, you severely compromise any fire safety plans in place. If a fire starts, it will spread through any gaps, igniting anything flammable in its path.

Keep people informed

Hand in hand with compartmentation is the need for all building users to have clear information on what is the safest action to take, whether that is to stay put and await the fire service, or evacuate safely.

It is important to note that a building’s occupants should only be advised to stay put if compartmentation measures are in place. If fire doors, and fire resistant wall and ceiling protection materials are inadequate, it is NOT SAFE for building users to be advised to stay put. Under these circumstances, occupants should evacuate as quickly as possible.

Evacuation routes need to be clearly marked, all building users, including visitors, need to be informed of fire safety procedures, and information has to be readily available at all times so people can check anything if they are unsure.

All landlords, building owners, managers, and other responsible people have a clear responsibility under the law that their premises meet all fire safety requirements. Buildings must be effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire.

A thorough risk assessment must be carried out to make sure that all buildings have the correct fire safety measures in place. When regulations are breached, lives are at risk.

Lessons from Lakanal House

Unfortunately, lessons were not learned from the Lakanal House tower block fire. Southwark Council was fined £570,000 for a 2009 tower block fire in which six people were killed. The London Fire Brigade brought the prosecution against the council as Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, had a number of structural and safety issues which breached fire regulations.

During the investigation into the cause of the fire, it was revealed that 999 operators had told residents to stay in their flats. This meant that some residents were trapped when the fire spread more rapidly than anticipated.

Stay put was the wrong advice

Emergency service operators were rightly following the ‘stay put’ procedure for tower blocks which has been in place since the 1990s. When dealing with emergency situations, 999 operators offer advice based on the assumption that buildings have the correct fire safety measures in place, for example that fire doors would be closed and not wedged open and fire resistant materials would be incorporated into the building’s walls and ceilings. These measures prevent flames and smoke from spreading.

However, this was not the case at Lakanal House. There were inadequate compartmentation measures in place including an absence of strips or seals on doors in the buildings, a lack of cavity barriers in the ceilings and inadequate fire protection to the timber stairs in the common corridor.

At the inquest, Peter Holland, Chief Fire and Rescue advisor for the Communities and Local Government department, stated that correct compartmentation is vital for the ‘stay put’ policy in tower blocks to be safe. This would have kept the fire contained for one hour while the emergency services dealt with the situation. As the correct measures were not in place in Lakanal House, the fire spread at an alarmingly fast rate.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the situation, there was no clear guidance for operators on what was the safest action to take for residents of Lakanal House. According to Peter Holland, this would have been for residents to be told to evacuate if they felt they were in jeopardy.

Who is responsible?

Dan Daly, London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, said: “All landlords, including large housing providers, such as councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law that their premises meet all fire safety requirements are effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire and keep their residents safe.”

It is essential that risk assessments are carried out to make sure that buildings have the correct fire safety measures in place. Closed fire doors and other fire-resistant structures are vital to prevent the spread of fire in a building, so the fire can be contained and residents can stay safe or evacuate. When these regulations are breached, lives are at risk.

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How to prevent the spread of fire

After the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, fire safety is an issue on everyone’s minds. Questions are being asked about inadequate safety measures. How do we stop this from happening again?

Why do we need fire doors?

Fire doors save lives. They’re designed to stop the spread of fire and smoke for a specified amount of time.

How to check your fire doors

How to check your fire doors

With the recent revelation that the fire doors at Grenfell Tower did not hold back fire for anywhere near the legal minimum of 30 minutes, it’s important to address the use and maintenance of fire doors.

Even if a door is fully tested and correctly built and installed, there are other factors which can cause it to fail. Fire doors can easily become damaged when they are in regular use.

In a previous blog we covered the reason we need fire doors and the differences between fire doors and other doors. To recap:

  • Fire doors are specially made and are much heavier than normal internal doors which is why they can be difficult to push open
  • They need to be fitted with a door closer so they shut automatically
  • Fire doors need a seal around the edges which swells when heated to block any gaps
  • If the doors are fitted with windows, the glazing must be fire-resistant
  • All ironmongery on the doors needs to be fire-resistant.

Who is responsible?

The Responsible Person in a building is in charge of ensuring that fire doors are fit for purpose. In commercial properties, you are the Responsible Person if you’re any of the following: employer, owner, landlord, occupier, someone with control of the premises, facilities manager, building manager, risk assessor. Chances are there will be more than one Responsible Person in a business at one time, and these people must work together to ensure they meet all relevant requirements of the Fire Safety Order.

If the Responsible Person is concerned that they don’t know enough to do the job properly, they can employ a fire safety expert to advise or carry out a fire risk assessment.

How often should we check our fire doors?

Every six months or even every three months in a busy building. If possible, employ a registered FDIS inspector to check your fire doors. These are people that have achieved a diploma in fire doors and have had their competence and knowledge independently assessed.

What needs to be checked?

Certification

It must be a certified fire door. Check there’s a label or plug on the top (or occasionally the side) of the door. It will be CE-marked, and look something like this.

Fully closes

Fire doors need to automatically close. Open the door halfway, let it go and allow it to close. Does it close firmly without sticking on the floor or the frame?

Ensure the door leaf sits against the door stop and is free from distortion. If you have double doors, check they close in line if opened and released together.

Check your gaps

The top and sides of the doors should have a gap of less than 4mm from the frame. You can use a pound coin to check, as this is approx 3mm in width.

From door to floor the gap should be less than 10mm when the door is closed. As a rule if you can see light under the door the gap is probably too big.

If the gaps are too large, smoke will be able to get through rendering the fire door useless.

Door frame

Not just any frame will do, they must be purchased from the fire door manufacturer or from a company licensed to manufacture them. Door frames must be firmly attached to the wall and free from damage.

Seals

Fire doors must be fitted with intumescent seals. Make sure these are in place, well attached inside the groove in the frame or door leaf, continuous around the frame and free from damage.

Hinges

Each fire door needs a minimum of three hinges, firmly fixed with all screws fitted. The screws should be the correct size and the hinges free from metal fragments and oil leakage. Make sure there are no broken screws.

Door closer

Fire doors must have a door closer to ensure they shut automatically. Make sure this is correctly attached and free from damage.

Hold open devices

If keeping your fire doors closed all the time is inconvenient, you can fit them with devices to hold them open legally and safely. These must release the doors to close when the fire alarm sounds.

If your doors are fitted with hold open devices, test them weekly to ensure they are in good working order.

Damage free

Fire doors can have a bit of a hard life. They are constantly being opened and left to slam shut or pushed open with feet, trolleys, beds and other heavy items. This means they can become damaged, which could reduce their effectiveness.

Check that all parts of the fire door are free from damage. Make sure any glass in the door is not cracked.

No wedges

Fire doors cannot do their job if they are wedged open. If you spot any fire doors held open in this way, remove the wedge. 

Latch

Make sure the latch holds the door in place without rattling.

Fire safety is all about common sense. If you have a fire door that looks damaged or faulty, have it checked. It is advisable to ask a competent person to check your doors every six months anyway to ensure they’re in good working order. Regular maintenance will keep everyone safe.

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Everything you need to know about hotel fire safety

Everything you need to know about hotel fire safety

Here are our top tips for complying with fire regulations if you work in a hotel:

1. Everything starts with a fire risk assessment. All hotels, whatever the size, must complete one. Regular checks of the building need to be made to ensure that fire doors are not damaged in any way. Fire doors must be kept closed and not wedged open. Hazards, such as frayed wiring or blocked escape routes, must be removed.

2. Risk assessments should be ongoing. All risks must be noted and dealt with as soon as possible, rather than a ‘tick-box’ exercise carried out once a year.

3. Staff training is vital to ensure hotel fire safety. All employees need to be able to identify and report fire risks, as well as knowing all escape routes, and what to do in an emergency. Try to spread out fire training across the year. This includes evacuation drills, how to use a fire blanket, fire extinguisher training and how to change the lint filters in tumble dryers.

4. Make sure that there is a clear evacuation route in case of emergency. Watch out for the following hazards:

  • Wedged open fire doors. If a fire door is wedged open, fire and smoke can spread easily rather than being contained. This will make evacuation difficult as corridors will become full of smoke
  • Corridors cluttered with stored furniture will make escape difficult
  • Inaccessible stairwells because of a fire door rendered useless with a door wedge
  • Confusing signs

What does the law say?

The Fire Safety Order (FSO) is the current law in England and Wales. This states that one ‘responsible person’ (usually the owner or manager) is in charge of compliance. This ‘responsible person’ can nominate a ‘competent person’ to receive the fire training and ensure day-to-day compliance with regulations if they prefer.

Common breaches of fire regulations in hotels

Fire safety experts checked a group of 17 hotels in Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham and Manchester. They found issues which breached fire regulations in almost every one. What were the most common things they encountered?

  • Ill-fitting doors in frames
  • Damaged fire doors
  • Fire and smoke seals in poor condition
  • Fire doors wedged open

What are the penalties?

In England and Wales, a breach of fire regulations used to result in a fine of up to £5,000 in the Magistrates’ courts unlike the Crown Court where the penalty was an unlimited fine and/or prison.

Now, the penalty in the Magistrates’ Court is an unlimited fine and the person responsible for fire safety will be prosecuted as an individual, not as a company. This means that in future, less cases need to go to the Crown Court and fines can increase, especially if you have a significant turnover. On top of this, any enforcement action is published online for everyone to see.

Here are some of the heftiest recorded fines that the UK hotel industry has seen.

5. White Swan Hotel, Arundel, 2007
£25,000
When a fire broke out at the White Swan Hotel, 10 guests were left trapped in their bedrooms. The guests were rescued, but subsequent investigations found a list of serious fire safety breaches.

  • Fire doors were wedged open
  • Fire alarms weren’t tested correctly
  • Staff did not have adequate fire safety training
  • Fire alarm panel was switched to ‘silent’ mode.
  • No suitable emergency plan in case of a fire.

4. Tantons Hotel, Bideford, 2011
£40,000
Tantons Hotel was ordered to pay £40,000 in fines after being condemned for breaching fire safety regulations. 55 guests narrowly escaped serious injury or death after a fire broke out. At 4am:

  • The fire alarm failed
  • A guest was sent back to their room when fire was spreading through the building and
  • A fire exit was blocked by cans of cooking oil
  • An elderly guest was fearful for her life when she was trapped between a fire exit which failed to open and another door that had no handle. The judge commented that the hotel was a ‘death trap.’

3. The Belfry Hotel, Cheshire, 2008
£75,000
Firefighters carried out a routine visit to this luxury hotel and discovered their inadequate safety precautions were putting their guests at serious risk. They found:

  • No working fire alarms
  • Faulty smoke detectors
  • Poor fire exits
  • Lack of fire safety training for staff.
  • The hotel was immediately closed but re-opened after the issues were resolved and the required equipment fitted.

2. The Radnor Hotel, London, 2015
£200,000
The former owner of The Radnor Hotel was fined £200,000 — the biggest ever fine from the London Fire Brigade, after a routine inspection found several serious fire safety breaches.

  • Missing fire doors
  • No fire risk assessment
  • Inadequate fire detection systems and emergency lighting
  • Fire doors were tied open using string, extension cords and an extinguisher used as a wedge
  • The former owner was also given a four month prison sentence.

1. The Chumleigh Lodge Hotel, London, 2012
£210,000
The offences date back to 2008. The fire brigade were called when a fire spread rapidly from a first floor bedroom to the second floor. Three people escaped. After the fire, fire inspectors found 12 offences including:

  • Obstructed fire escape routes
  • No smoke alarms
  • Defective fire doors
  • Unsuitable fire risk assessment and no staff training
  • The case was a landmark hearing, as it was the first time a jury convicted a defendant rather than a judge or magistrate.

A fire has traumatic consequences if preventative measures aren’t in place. Fines, closure and loss of reputation can follow a fire, as well as the risk of someone dying.

Compliance doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult for you, we can help, with solutions that make compliance easy. And maybe you can avoid a situation like this one!

 

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Fun Friday fire quiz part four

Fun Friday fire quiz part four

Fun Friday Fire Quiz 4

We’re back with our fourth installment of our red hot quiz! Fire up your synapses, pour yourself a hot drink and show us how smokin’ your quiz skills are! All the questions are fire-related. Let’s get this started!

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