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September 21, 2021

Fire Door Safety Week: COVID-19 and the rise of ‘wedging fire doors open’

As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic many aspects of our lives have changed beyond recognition. During this time of unprecedented change, with society having to completely rethink interactions with our physical environment, has fire safety been overlooked? 

Fire Chiefs and Fire & Rescue Services across the United Kingdom have recognised the emerging practice of ‘wedging fire doors open’ as an increased threat to fire safety in a post-COVID world.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said: “We have identified that some premises are wedging open self-closing fire doors as a COVID-19 control measure intended to reduce the need to touch locks and door handles.

“Self-closing fire doors are fitted within your premises to prevent the spread of smoke and fire and to protect and maintain escape routes. It is essential that these doors are kept shut at all times.”

Fire doors compartmentalise a building in order to contain a blaze and delay the spread of fire and toxic smoke, providing an extended window of opportunity for fire services to respond to the emergency.

A properly installed and well maintained fire-resistant timber door can offer between 30 and 60 minutes of important fire protection without interfering with normal daily use, or as a clear means of escape in an emergency.

This issue has been further highlighted by a recent fire safety survey that found 53% of industry professionals seeing an increase in fire doors being wedged open since the start of the pandemic.

In support of Fire Door Safety Week, Safety Technology International are encouraging businesses to seek safer alternatives to the wedging open of fire doors in the battle against COVID-19 and in preparation for “the new normal”.

Physical push buttons, door handles, and push plates are notorious as a focal point for germs; contamination of just a single door results in the spread of viruses throughout a building.

Unsurprisingly post-COVID research discovered that when “out and about” almost half of the British people surveyed now want “motion sensors so you don’t have to touch things.” Access control must play a key role in infection control, reducing the dangerous temptation of wedging fire doors and neglecting of fire safety.

Listening to the calls of customers throughout the pandemic STI have sought a solution for contactless entries and exits. Honouring the problem-solving blueprint of company founder Jack Taylor, the inventor of the original Stopper® protective cover, the new NoTouch® Buttons harness the power of current infrared technology to safely stem the spread of COVID-19.

When used in conjunction with an automatic door opener or hands-free foot plate, as suggested by the Health and Safety Executive, the buttons provide a completely touchless entry and exit system, requiring no physical contact at all eliminating the need to wedge open a fire door.

To activate the NoTouch® Button, a person must simply wave or gesture their hand in front of the infrared sensor at a variable detection range. The device will detect this motion, indicated by dual colour status LEDs, then open or unlatch the door for an adjustable amount of time, without the user needing to touch anything.

An additional deterrent, the Exit Stopper® door alarm is a highly effective way to alert you to any misuse of fire doors, if the protected door is held ajar the unique device will emit a powerful warning alarm and visual flashing beacon.

A 15-second trip delay and automatic door close shut-off allows the unit to be fixed to a door in regular use, meaning the door can be used as required but importantly preventing it from being dangerously wedged open.

The North Wales Fire and Rescue Service says the wedging or pinning back of internal fire doors is unacceptable and must be avoided: “This practice would result in the premises not complying fully with the requirement of the Fire Safety Order 2005.

“The consequences of fire doors being wedged open could result in the loss of a substantial part of the premises due to fire, heat and smoke spreading between areas of the building due to the loss of compartmentation.”

If you prop open a fire door and it is seen to put lives at risk you could suffer large fines, have your insurance void, or even face a prison sentence.

Launched in 2013 in response to a legacy of fire door neglect, Fire Door Safety Week (20 September-26 September) is a ‘mass market’ awareness campaign to increase public understanding of the role that fire doors play in protecting life and property.

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