Anyone concerned with the design, construction or management of public buildings will be aware of the critical role that door closers play in assuring the safety of a building’s occupants in case of fire. They ensure that fire doors close automatically, either at all times or when initiated by fire warning systems, and are held shut against their fire/smoke seals, allowing the door to perform the function for which it is designed.
Whilst performing this vital function reliably is a key factor in the selection of door closers, specifiers and managers are becoming increasingly aware of the added benefits that certain types of door closers can provide in areas such as safety, risk reduction, reliability and maintenance costs.
Choosing the right door closer for a given application relies not only on assessing the product’s suitability against recognised regulations and performance standards, but also on considering a number of other factors that can have a bearing on the safety, comfort and well-being of the building’s occupants.
Professionals will also be aware of the requirements imposed by the Equality Act to assure unhindered access to facilities for the physically impaired, whether this be through disability or infirmity.
These key areas of fire safety and accessibility are governed by a plethora of building regulations, performance standards and best practice guides.
Where fire safety is concerned, various requirements come to bear when selecting a door closer, including Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (Technical handbook E in Scotland and Part E in Northern Ireland), BS EN 1154, which governs the performance of controlled door closing devices and BS EN 1634-1, the fire door testing standard. Since July 3013, in common with other fire safety products, door closers that are suitable for use on fire doors must carry the CE mark.
Where accessibility is concerned, parliamentary instruments such as the Equality Act and the Special Education Needs and Disability Act apply in conjunction with Approved Document M of the Building Regulations (Section 3 in Scotland, Part R in Northern Ireland) and BS 8300 which stipulates maximum opening forces for doors on accessible routes.
The majority of commercially available door closers will, at the very least, be able to meet the mandatory minimum performance criteria covering the size and weight of doors for which they have been designed, so, whilst vital, finding a door closer that meets relevant fire and accessibility criteria should not be too onerous for the majority of applications.
There are, however, a number of additional factors which should be taken into account when selecting a door closer, many of which are particularly apposite to the variety of buildings and facilities encountered throughout the public sector.
It goes without saying that door closers must, at all times, be able to perform the function for which they are intended. The main reasons for a door closer failing to work are reliability and the likelihood of fire doors being wedged open.
Looking at reliability, failure of a door closer can lead to failure of the fire door to perform the duty for which it is intended; to keep fire and smoke at bay. In the case of fire, the consequences can be devastating, if not fatal.
Quality of design and manufacture together with cycle testing of door closers certainly provide some assurance of a product’s durability, but other factors can have a considerable effect on the ability of a fire door, and door closer, to function at all times.
The need to properly maintain a door closer during its life can impose an undesirable burden on building managers; some door closers, such as Powermatic, are designed to be maintenance-free and come with lengthy guarantees for added assurance.
Additionally, if a door closer is damaged, either through some misplaced prank or vandalism, this too can have a detrimental effect on the fire door’s performance, perhaps even stopping the door working all together. In educational buildings and other public facilities, where the users’ duty of care may not be so high, such risks, whether accidental or deliberate, are significant.
Surface mounted door closers, with their obvious control boxes and mechanical arms represent a real temptation for pranksters, whereas concealed door closers virtually eliminate the risk of damage.
Jamb-mounted door closers in particular offer real benefits in this area. Products such as Samuel Heath’s Powermatic controlled, concealed door closer are invisible when the door is closed and present very few working parts when the door is open, thereby reducing the likelihood of damage.
Wedging fire doors open will obviously prevent the fire door performing its primary function and should be avoided at all times. Despite notices, best practice guides and individual instructions, the practice still goes on, especially in care homes, but also in other facilities.
Recognising the risk, by assessing the needs of a building’s occupants, is the first step in resolving the issue. The solution is either to use hold-open devices or to use free swing door closers, such as Powermatic Free Swing, which allow the door to operate manually until the door closer is activated, normally by the building’s fire alarm system.
There is one further element of safety and risk reduction that is probably not given consideration beyond specialist facilities and that is the risk of a door closer being used as a point of ligature. Sensitive and uncomfortable as the subject might be, the risk should be recognised, perhaps particularly in educational facilities. Whilst full anti-ligature measures would be unnecessary, the risk can be significantly reduced by the use of certain types of concealed door closers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that at least one local authority has replaced traditional box and arm overhead door closers throughout all of its schools with Powermatic concealed door closers in order to reduce the risk of self-harm.
When selecting the right door closer for any fire door situation, the first task will always be to ensure that the product meets the necessary fire performance and accessibility requirements. Once these criteria have been satisfied, other factors should be taken into consideration which can enhance safety for the building’s occupants.