Laws on the doors

Failure to fit adequate fire doors could see you winding up in court, facing a heavy fine or even doing time in prison, warns Neil Ashdown

Providing a high standard of accommodation for students is a daunting task, particularly as for most this is their first time living away from home, meaning that estates managers are almost acting in loco parentis. This puts great responsibility on their shoulders to ensure all elements of health and safety are under control.

Every year, according to DCLG, 350 18-24-year-olds are injured in accidental house fires started by cigarettes, smoking materials and cooking. In fact half of these fires occur because of cooking. Therefore there’s a high chance that students living in halls of residence could start a fire. This places a great deal of importance on fire prevention and management in accommodation.

Building owners and managers have legal responsibilities to take on knowledgeable people to assess and manage fire risk in their properties. Articles 17 and 18 of the RRO – or Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order – make specific reference to the need to maintain fire prevention devices that are fit for purpose and to appoint one or more competent people to assist in undertaking preventive and protective measures.

The consequences of not meeting the regulations can result in severe punishments and include a large fine. In fact, the largest fine to be given to a building owner last year was the owner of a £20,000-a-year school. After admitting to 15 breaches of fire safety regulations, he was ordered to pay £50,000. The 200-pupil school was blasted for having non-functional fire doors in student sleeping areas. Other trials resulted in significant prison sentences.

These cases send out a strong message about the implications of ineffective fire management procedures, which is often caused by the lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding fire doors and the RRO. Indeed it was this widespread ignorance that led two leading authorities on fire doors, the BWF-Certifire Scheme and the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers to develop FDIS to improve knowledge and understanding about the critical role of fire doors in saving lives and protecting property.

Estate managers need to be confident that if a fire should occur they will not be in breach of the legal requirements for fire doors. If there is any doubt in your mind you should ask a certificated fire door inspector to take a look around the buildings and determine whether there are any shortfalls and what action needs to be taken. You may also want to think about undertaking a qualification such as the FDIS diploma in fire doors to assess and maintain procedures in-house so you can be confident that you can check the work of your contractors.

Rod Harrison, a fire safety officer at Loughborough University, is responsible for 19 halls of residence and understands the challenges of keeping on top of everything. But he also recognises the importance fire doors play in keeping students safe. He chose to undertake the FDIS diploma to improve his knowledge and understanding. “We have an extremely good inspection regime that, of course, means checking on the condition of fire doors,” he says. “Although we understand what is needed and why, passing the FDIS diploma means that when it comes to specifying, installing and maintaining fire doors, we have even more confidence that our knowledge, training and competency levels are at a very high standard.”

The FDIS diploma is studied online and comprises seven specialist modules. Each module can be undertaken at a time and pace to suit learners and includes tests that can be used to check knowledge prior to taking the examination.

Educational establishments are also appointing CertFDI-certificated fire door inspectors to assess and inspect the fire doors and escape doors installed in their buildings. Their expertise is valuable not only in complying with legal obligations, but also in resolving any issues with contractors who have recently installed or repaired fire doors.

Neil Ashdown is general manager, Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) W:

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