In the course of my recent travels I have inspected about 120 fire doors for compliance with the regulations. I have been shocked, but not surprised (I doubt anybody who works in the fire safety sector would be too surprised) by the results. Of those 120 doors, only 17 were compliant with the regulations.
Many of the faults I found would not have been obvious unless you were conducting a detailed inspection of the doors, but some were, frankly, ridiculous.
Not so obvious to the untrained eye – a plastic spacer has been used to pack out this hinge on a fire door.
Blatantly obvious – this door has been allowed to fall in to a ridiculous state of disrepair.
What struck me hardest though, was the prevailing attitude that allows these findings to be the norm. Not only from those who have legal obligations for fire safety, but from everyone else who accepts it and doesn’t challenge it. From the widespread use of door wedges to blocking fire exit routes, examples of a dangerous disregard for fire safety are frighteningly frequent.
Is it ignorance? Often, yes. But is there also something of an institutionalised reluctance to understand fire safety in case we feel obliged to take inconvenient action? I don’t mean just within individual corporations – I mean within society as a whole. Most people I meet who have fire safety duties would gladly implement every regulation and recommendation because they don’t want any kind of tragedy on their conscience, but I come across people almost everyday who clearly regard me as a ‘jobsworth’ and can’t wait for me to leave so they can wedge open their door again.
Building managers have to contend with that attitude from the occupants of their premises as well, they often tell me it is a constant battle to prevent the use of door wedges and to keep fire exits clear. Budgetary constraints are also a headache – most places accept annual costs now for inspection and maintenance of fire alarms, sprinklers and extinguishers, but I haven’t found one that has a budget for fire doors. This often means that their fire doors have not been maintained correctly and they are reluctant to look at them in case it ends up costing them a lot of money to rectify the problems that are identified. So they are stuck between the corporation that doesn’t want to spend any money and the occupants who don’t want to take fire safety seriously!
As far as corporations are concerned – yes, you need to have a budget for maintenance of fire doors. There is no compromise, they either comply or they don’t – ‘that’ll do’ does not apply to fire doors and if an (apparently) minor defect means the difference between 30 minutes and 15 minutes protection it could be the difference between life and death.
But it’s not just money, you need to embed fire safety in to corporate culture along with every other kind of safety, whether it be from discrimination, violence, harassment or industrial injury. If we can insist that people wear PPE when necessary, surely we can get rid of door wedges?