A dodgy fire door is a sure sign of an unsafe building generally, yet two thirds of parents with children living away from home admit that even they would not know what to look for, and almost three in ten families (29%) admit that neither they nor their child checked a property’s fire safety before they rented or moved in.
New research commissioned for Fire Door Safety Week(14-20 September 2015) sounds an alarm bell for many families who will see their children head off to college or university and leave home for the first time over the coming weeks.
According to Government statistics, more than three quarters (80%) of all fire-related fatalities in 2013/14 occurred in dwelling fires. There were 39,139 such fires in the period and 260 deaths. People living in rented or shared accommodation are seven times more likely to have a fire.
Yet in a sample of a thousand parents with children living away from home in a rented property, shared house or student accommodation, only a quarter (25%) of respondents felt very confident that their family member knew about fire safety where they lived, as they had been given fire training or instructions.
A fifth (20%) of respondents had little, if any, confidence at all in their family member’s living companions’ fire safety awareness. A further 16% were completely unaware of whether they had any knowledge of fire safety at all.
The statistics have extra poignancy given the tragic story of Julian Rosser’s daughter, Sophie Rosser, who died in a fire in a block of flats in London’s Canary Wharf in August 2012. An inquest heard that Ms Rosser's death could have been avoided if a self-closing fire door had not become stuck on the floor preventing it from closing.
Julian Rosser says:
“The awful thing about Sophie’s death is that it was so avoidable. Had the entrance fire door to her apartment not fouled on the warped flooring and been wedged open, her young life would not have been taken from her.
“From my perspective I would like to see the law changed to make it much clearer who the ‘Responsible Person’ is in every multi-occupancy building so that it is obvious whose responsibility it is for statutory and regular fire door inspection. This would allow the law to have much sharper teeth to deal with offenders. In Sophie’s case, after three years no prosecutions have been brought and the Coroner was frustrated in her attempts to allocate the blame to any particular person or organisation.
“I wholeheartedly support the objectives of Fire Door Safety Week and will keep campaigning for the necessary changes in the laws governing the frequency of inspection of fire doors and their proper installation and maintenance.”
Hannah Mansell, spokesperson for Fire Door Safety Week, believes that anyone can do a 30 second fire door safety check each and every time they use a fire door – and this applies as much to our places of work and play as to student accommodation and rented homes.
“Don’t confuse a fire door with a fire exit or escape door. Internal fire doors are in almost all the buildings we use, work and stay in, particularly if we are sharing that building with other people.
“If a door’s looking a bit beaten up, it is definitely a sign that we should look more closely and a quick check can take less than a minute.
“Report any concerns to the ‘Responsible Person’ who is legally required to keep fire doors working correctly, under the terms of the Fire Safety Order 2005. This may be the landlord, the building owner, a facilities manager, estates manager or someone like that.”
30 second fire door check
Fire Door Safety Week is giving these Top 10 Tips on what to look out for – a 30 second fire door checkthat anyone can do, and which lets you know whether it’s time to call in the professionals:
- Does the door close soundly against the frame?
- Are the seals (intumescent or smoke seals) present and in good condition?
- Is the edge of the door or frame damaged?
- Does the latch engage properly?
- Are there any gaps larger than 3mm between the frame and the door?
- Can you see light through the gap at the bottom of the door?
- Are there a minimum of three hinges and do they look in good condition?
- Does the door have signage on it?
- If there is glazing in the door, does it look in good condition?
- Is the door wedged or stuck open?
Close that door!
As in the building where Sophie Rosser lived, fire doors that don’t close properly, either because they can’t or they’ve been deliberately propped open, are the most common fire safety fault.
Yet in the Fire Door Safety Week research, more than a third (36%) of respondents admitted to wedging open or removing an automatic mechanism for closing a fire door because the door has annoyed them. This rose to over 60% of respondents aged 35-54.
While thankfully 46% of people (mostly the over 55’s) said they’d have the common sense to close it, one in five respondents (20%) said that if they spotted a fire door wedged open they would leave it open.
Hannah Mansell says:
“We need to up the ante on fire door safety. The rates of fire deaths and casualties are reducing, but there are still an average of 25 fatalities or injuries from building fires every day.
“Fire doors are a crucial first line of defence in many of these fires, and yet they remain a significant area of neglect. Fire doors are often the first thing to be downgraded in a specification, mismanaged throughout their service life, propped open, damaged and badly maintained.
“10 years on from new laws being introduced, fire door failure is still a consistent feature of prosecutions under the Fire Safety Order. Just this year alone we know of hundreds of thousands of pounds of fines and prison sentences for people who have failed to meet their fire safety responsibilities.
“We’re finding faulty fire doors in buildings of every type – from council flats to care homes, hospitals to hotels, private rented homes to publicly listed company HQs.
“We want to see organisations and building owners in every sector pledge support to Fire Door Safety Week and take action today to check their fire doors.”
Building owners need to take fire responsibilities more seriously
Fire Door Safety Week is an annual campaign instigated by the British Woodworking Federation, the BWF-CERTIFIRE Fire Door Schemeand the Fire Door Inspection Scheme(FDIS), and is supported by the Government’s Fire Killscampaign and a wide range of property organisations and fire safety bodies.
It has also received support from the Fire Minister, the Rt Hon Mark Francois MP, who said:
“Fire doors offer vital protection and can make a real difference to the impact of a fire. I commend the British Woodworking Federation and supporting organisations for this excellent industry-led Fire Door Safety Week and encourage everyone to use this timely reminder to check their fire doors, keep them closed and report any substandard ones to the owners of the building.”
The message to landlords and all building owners is to take their responsibilities more seriously.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, those who have control over a premises (known as the ‘responsible person’) are required to carry out a fire risk assessment and act on its findings. The risk assessment should also identify actions which need to be taken in order to protect the building from fire. It must be kept under constant review and amended if any changes are made to the premises.
However, since the Fire Safety Order was introduced in 2005, there continues to be a steady stream of prosecutions against all types of building owners, landlords and agents.
Hannah Mansell blames the fact that awareness of the Fire Safety Order is still far too low:
“When managers with formal responsibility for fire safety in their organisations were asked last year if they were fully aware of their legal obligations, almost half (46.5%) said they either did not know what they were, or admitted they were unclear. This is why we run Fire Door Safety Week, to drive up awareness of the correct specification, installation and maintenance of fire doors.”
Fire Door Safety Week 2015
Fire Door Safety Week highlights the need for all organisations to be fully informed of their responsibilities under the Fire Safety Order, and to understand the correct specification, supply, installation, operation, inspection and maintenance of fire doors.
Building owners, landlord, facilities and estates managers and anyone with responsibility for fire safety can access free resources in an online toolkit to help spread the word about fire door safety. These include technical checklists to help with fire door inspections, videos and posters that can be used in any public or multiple occupancy building to educate people on basic fire door rules.
There are also many other ways to get involved, including putting Fire Door Safety Week messages on websites and social media, running events and carrying out full onsite inspections.
Follow @FDSafetyWeek on Twitter for campaign news and updates, or look out for tweets using the hashtag #FireDoorSafetyWeek.