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Easy access in the wireless world

02 August 2011

How do you keep your premises accessible, while keeping to the fire regs? Tom Welland looks at a relatively inexpensive solution using wireless technology

THE EFFECTS OF HEALTH AND SAFETY LEGISLATION can often take years or even decades to take effect, just look at the time it took speed limits and seat belts to move from being controversial to normal. Fire safety legislation is no different; its impact dramatically increasing as the new legislation starts to hit people’s pockets.

The shift in emphasis from fire protection to fire prevention started well over 10 years ago with the introduction of the concept of fire risk assessments. However it was only the

introduction in 2005 of the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (RRFSO), with escalating enforcement and fines, that has brought this change into sharper focus.

Crucially, by introducing the concept of a Responsible Person for every building, the RRFSO has identified, much more clearly than before, the necessity of fire prevention and the very real consequences of failure to adequately discharge that responsibility. Mounting prosecutions brought against individuals and businesses mean that no one can now afford to ignore their legal duties. Since the legislation began to bite we have seen fines for breaches of fire safety exceed £400,000 for companies and, last month, to over £150,000 for an individual landlord.

Most recently the company that owned the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay, where three people died in a fire in August 2007, was fined £80,000 for breaching fire safety legislation and ordered to pay £62,000 in costs, so it’s vital that Facilities Management, Managing Agents and Landlords are in no doubt as to where their responsibilities lie.

Fire doors fit for purpose?

A crucial part of any fire safety strategy are fire doors, designed to contain (compartmentalise) fire and, by restricting its spread, extend the precious time needed for occupants to escape, and for damage to the building to be contained.

However, if a fire breaks out, and the integrity of any one of the fire door’s components is compromised then its role as an engineered safety feature can be weakened, if not fatally crippled.

This is also the case for the essential ironmongery that holds the fire door in place and ensures its correct performance. Door closers, hinges, locks and latches fall into this

category and they must therefore carry fire test evidence to show suitability for use on fire doors. In addition, even the weight and bulk of kick plates, escutcheons, door handles, (and panic exit devices) can affect the manufactured door’s specified performance.

A weak link in a door-set assembly could, for example, be inappropriately installed hinges, leading to door distortion and ill-fitting leaves, creating gaps that smoke could pour through. A Facilities Manager recalled how, shortly after being appointed to her new job, being horrified at spotting two ill-fitting fire doors, each with a 2 cm gap where the doors failed to meet! This very hazard has been the direct cause of fire fatalities, as any number of fire reports can confirm.

Remember, anyone who has responsibility to specify the materials and/or appoint a contractor is required to ensure that they can prove competency for all fire protection materials used, plus all the installation and commissioning work.

Fire doors. An open and shut case?

So having recognised the vital importance of fire doors for the safety of all those using a building it’s important to remember that fire-resisting doors (other than those to locked cupboards and service ducts) are usually required to be self-closing, in accordance with building regulations.

However, mechanically operated door closing devices fitted on fire-resisting doors can pose significant obstacles to the young, elderly, infirm or disabled, as the power that closes the door reliably after use has to be provided by the user each time the door is opened. This self-closing function can also be an inconvenience in high traffic areas and cause difficulties where large numbers of users have to pass through the doors.

To comply with the Equality Act, employers, service providers and building owners now have a greater responsibility to ensure that their business premises incorporate suitable access arrangements for people with disabilities. In some cases this could include making physical alterations to a building and might impact on the way in which particular areas of the premises are managed and used.

In any building refurbishment it makes good commercial sense to incorporate any alterations required to meet the disabled access standards into the refurbishment programme as it can prove more costly and disruptive to conduct remedial work at a later stage. Buildings that comply with Equality law are also more attractive to tenants and are easier to sell.

Freedom of access

The use of electrically powered free-swing door closers that hold a self-closing fire-resisting door in the open position are recommended in applications which are designed to meet the levels of accessibility called for in the Equality Act 2010 and to satisfy the requirements of Approved Document M: 2004 of the Building Regulations.

There are a number of different types of self-closing devices available that can make access around a building much easier, without compromising the fire compartmentation function of the fire-resisting doors to which they are fitted.

Tom Welland, Commercial Director for Fireco Ltd, and a qualified Fire Safety Manager and councillor for the Fire Industry Association (FIA), has sat on the Fire Industry Association’s Fire Risk Assessment council since 2008.

However, the expense and disruption to occupants and the fabric of the building associated with the installation of hard-wired door closers can be a serious barrier to their use.

Now there is the technology that allows the fire doors to be held open safely and legally

whilst enabling improved ‘access for all’. This innovation is the wire-free electrically powered free-swing door closer that can be installed to hold a fire-resisting door in the open position yet requires no hard-wired connection. In fact, because it is wireless, it is easy to install in new buildings and in retrofit applications.

Wireless vs. Hard-wired

One of the advantages of a wireless, electrically powered free-swing door closer is in the lower costs resulting from reduced installation times. Most hard-wired self-closing devices require a surveyor/installer to conduct a site survey to determine the type of unit required; push or pull. However, a wireless, electrically powered free-swing

fire door closer can be installed in one of four positions; clockwise or anti-clockwise opening doors, and on the pull side or push side of the door, the product can be set for the required door performance configuration when it is installed, meaning that no site survey is required.

Once installed the device allows the door to swing freely, be left in any position, but closes the door when the fire alarm sounds. This system is designed to ease access around a building, without compromising the fire compartmentation function of the fire-resisting doors to which they are fitted.

The Hazards of Scrimping on Safety!

"It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better."

(John Ruskin – philosopher and poet)


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