Confusion still occurs when it comes to using specifications

Although fire safety has risen up the agenda lately, there is still a long way to go as many are still unsure of how to apply specifications correctly. To make matters worse, many of the standards used in the region have undergone major changes this year, so several projects are now using outdated specifications. Construction Week explains why these changes have occured and what it means for the safety of the region’s buildings.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  August 20, 2005

Confusion still occurs when it comes to using specifications|~|Getty-I,ages-200.jpg|~|There is often confusion surrounding the selection of which codes to follow and how these standards should be applied to buildings.|~|Although many contractors, consultants and architects are now aware of the need to use fire rated and fire resistant products within buildings, confusion still often remains when it comes to selecting which codes to follow and how these standards should be applied. One area where there is still a lot of confusion relates to fire doors and the use of architectural hardware. This is because, as with many products, old specifications are often copied from one project to another. This has become even more important this year as the standards used by the industry to ensure products meet certain safety requirements have changed. The old BS 476 Part 22:1987 is no longer in use and has been replaced by the BS EN1634-1 standard. The new standard is the fire resistance test for doors and shutter assemblies. It differs from BS 476 in a number of ways: It uses a new type of furnace thermometer; it increases the number of thermocouples to the ‘cold face’ of the door; it increases the furnace levels; and it conducts endurance tests. “Despite these changes, many specifiers still call for products that meet the old BS 476 standard,” says Robert Vos, regional director, Union Architectural Hardware. Another important change is the way that specifications are met. In the past a specification would call for the fire certificates from institutions like Warrington and BSI to prove the product meets the necessary standard. This is no longer the case. Since the beginning of this year when a test has been completed successfully, a test report is issued to the manufacturer. This is a 40 to 50-page confidential document that should not be given to third parties like specifiers. Then, whenever a certificate is required by the specificer, the manufacturer will issue a manufacturer’s compliance certificate certifying that the product complies with the required standard. This new process prevents companies from using forgeries to prove their products meet the necessary standard when in reality they may not. Unfortunately this new process is still not fully understood in the Middle East and many consultants and architects still require certificates. This actually means that they may approve products that have been forged and not tested to the new standards. Another area of confusion is which hardware products used on a door should meet BS EN1634-1. Like many other products, this hardware can vary greatly. The typical products used are mortice locks, knobsets, closers, viewers, levers, pull handles, doorstops and panic devices. For a fire door, the architectural hardware can be categorised into two segments — the first being the essential items. Generally speaking, these are the products that secure a fire-resisting door and make sure it stays closed in its frame in an emergency. Products like pivots and hinges help keep the door shut and also help stop the door from bowing. Door closing devices such as the commonly used overhead door closer allows the door to be closed reliably and make sure it stays shut when necessary. Finally, the locks and latches are sometimes used to hold the door shut. In a specification, all essential items like these should call for BS EN 1634-1 tested and certified products. All other products, such as levers, cylinders, stoppers, viewers and hooks are non-essential and are not directly associated with fire performance. Despite this, one should always avoid drilling holes through a fire door and or attach large metal objects to the door which could impair the doors overall performance. Panic hardware is another interesting area. Panic hardware (push bars) is designed to allow people to escape from a certain area. This differs from fire resistant doors that just keep a door closed to prevent smoke and fire from moving between one room and another. Panic hardware is used mainly on the outer shell of a building, or on the entry to staircases in high-rise towers. According to the European specifications these door assemblies do not have to be fire rated, but performance testing should take a much more important role. This means fire escape hardware should be tested to a different standard, BS EN 1125, instead of BS EN 1634-1. Another consideration for panic hardware is the ability to open the door from the outside. While some panic devices have a handle and cylinder to open the unit from the outside, many do not. This should not really be an option as it is important that the door can be opened from the other side so that emergency services can open the doors from the outside and free any people who may still be trapped inside. Unfortunately this feature is often omitted from the specifications to cut costs, or is simply deleted once the contract has been awarded. It should not be forgotten that door hardware is probably the most important life saving product in a building, and the quality of the products used should not be compromised. The bottom line is that getting locked out in an emergency situation can cost lives. Cheap products that don’t meet specifications also don’t perform well. Handles dropping because they are not sprung well, cylinders sticking, closers leaking and hinges squeaking are just a few of the many issues that can occur when sourcing cheap products.||**||

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