On the 2nd anniversary of the Grenfell fire, Huffpost UK broke the news about councils delaying the replacement of thousands of so-called faulty fire doors.  It is reported that Kensington and Chelsea council “has been forced to put back plans to replace all 4,000 fire doors in its entire social housing stock because of a lack of reliable products on the market and a stalemate involving industry and government.”

In a statement to refute this unacceptable news, Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) said:

We were deeply disappointed to see the unacceptable news that councils are delaying the replacement of thousands of faulty fire doors. The story broke on the anniversary of Grenfell and, as such, we decided not to issue a statement on the day, but to remain respectfully quiet to focus on remembering the victims and families affected and reflect on a tragedy that must never be forgotten.

The fact that councils are delaying the replacement of thousands of faulty fire doors is completely unacceptable. Kensington and Chelsea council claim that they have been unable to replace the 4,000 fire doors within its housing stock due to a lack of ‘reliable products’. This is absolutely not the case – there is no need for a delay of ‘up to three years’ due to a restricted supply of quality fire doors.

Around 3 million fire doors are certified and put to market every year through the BWF’s Fire Door Alliance accreditation scheme. For over 22 years the BWF’s scheme has ensured the quality, safety and traceability of fire doors through third party certification. This further counters the council’s claims that manufacturers have only just begun producing doors which meet national regulatory standards. We have been doing it for years and the supply is absolutely there.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, argues that councils are ‘struggling to confirm that fire doors that have come back on the market meet their requirements’ yet gives no indication of what the issues are and whether these doors have been certified.

Timber fire doors consistently deliver on their performance promises and the MHCLG fire door investigations have so far vindicated this – we look forward to the final results. Members who have had their fire doors put through the fire-resistant tests have reported that their timber fire doors have resisted fire for as long as 54 minutes, exceeding the 30-minute requirement time by 24 minutes. On average, across the data submitted, fire-resisting time currently stands at 46 minutes. This is in direct contrast to foam filled, glass reinforced polymer (GRP) faced fire doors which only withstood fire for 15 minutes during the tests.

If the delay is down to a dispute over who foots the bill for replacement, as also suggested by Lord Porter, then that is a separate issue which urgently needs addressing. It is not right that people’s lives are at risk because of disputes over money. But to suggest that quality fire doors are not available and ready for installation is simply untrue.

Let’s be Clear About Something

Fire doors themselves are not the guilty party, yet it’s as if they’ve been made the scapegoat.  What’s more – there is most certainly not a “lack of reliable product” on the market.

There are a number of third party certified timber fire door manufacturers who have been continually testing their doors to ensure they meet (and often exceed) the ‘industry standard’, including MBP.  What’s important to bear in mind, is that timber fire doors are an engineered product that are part of a delicate ecosystem – the door leaf, frame, ironmongery, intumescent seals and the gaps (between the door, frame and floor; and between the frame and the structural opening).  This system and the elements within it need to work together to be fully functional.  There is a chain between main contractors, architects and specifiers, manufacturers and building owners that links the system together.

The problem within the construction industry is the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  The moment a door is incorrectly specified, incorrectly installed and worst of all, not properly maintained by the Responsible Person, means the chain is broken.  And in the aftermath of Grenfell, it’s abundantly clear that installation and maintenance are the worst offenders.

But the government (the MHCLG in particular) also play a part.  As an industry, we all need to work together to help solve this problem.  The construction industry has been far too slow in its reaction and too resistant to change.  But if there was ever a time to change, it’s now.  The BWF and the Fire Door Alliance bring together a collective of manufacturers whose aim is to facilitate and affect change.  As Helen Hewitt asserts, we’ve been certifying and testing our products to British Standards for years, with plenty of evidence to demonstrate performance reliability during a fire.  And still, it’s abundantly clear we’re not all on the same page when stories like this break.

While timber door manufacturers have a duty of care to ensure proper manufacturing processes are adhered to, the fact remains that fire doors are reliable if they are specified, installed and maintained correctly.

And so the fight continues – for education, for cooperation, for understanding and for justice.

MBP has a vast array of test evidence on fire door performance, all readily available for download from our Certification page.