Hazards of safety-doors and door-closers

Fire doors belong to the category ‘Passive Fire Protection’, whereby it functions to slow down the spread of fire (as opposed to ‘Active Fire Protection’ category, which functions to actively fight or detect fires). The fire door is constructed in such a way that it is able to resist fire for a specified period of time, thereby compartmentalizing the fire for a period of time. However, to function effectively, the fire doors must properly fitted and installed, and during a fire: be in closed position. If there are any gaps caused by intentional wedging-open, or obstruction, fire doors would fail to perform its function.

For manually operated fire doors, the ‘door-closer’ (you probably recognize them – see attached picture) is usually used to ensure that fire doors are in shut-position during its rest state. These door-closers are mechanical devices that use either springs or hydraulic action to exert a pulling force on the door, forcing it to close on the door frame.

Great safety stuff….but sometimes having too many safety items can also result in unsafe incidences – especially when installed indiscriminately.

Take for instance, the apartment that I live in. The building owner had probably complied with local fire authorities’ guidelines, and installed fire-doors (with door-closers) at almost every location of the building: the main entrance to the building, entrance to stairways at every floor, and even at the entry door of each and every apartment unit. In order to get into an apartment unit from main entrance, occupants need to open at least four heavy doors.  These inconveniences can be considered a small price to pay for increased fire-safety.

But let’s consider: Are there any downsides to having so many fire doors, especially manually operated doors on main path-ways. I can think of some:

  1. Occupants, probably annoyed by needing to open too many doors within a short period of time, started treating the doors quite harshly. Frequent and forceful yanking of the doors have resulted in damaged walls and the door-openers.
  2. Fire-doors are heavy, and together with door-closers, it can close quite abruptly, generating a big force (using a simple Newton gauge to weigh air-port baggage, it requires 80 N, or 8 kg-equivalent force to open the fire door). Despite adjusting the door-closers to close slowly, the final shutting impact can crush or lacerate the hands/fingers caught between the door and the frame.
  3. The doors were completely opaque, without any see-through glass. Someone opening the door from this side would not be aware if somebody else on the other side might get hit by the door.
  4. Someone having their hands full (e.g. with groceries, or wheeling a bike/pram) would need to perform some acrobatics just to balance their load while opening the heavy doors. This too, can cause personal injury, especially on the a person’s wrist, or back.

Elderly people and young children especially would be susceptible to personal injuries such as described above.

What could have been done differently, to strike a balance between having increased fire-safety and lower-risk for personal injury?

  • To lessen the impact of door closing, higher quality door openers have the ability to adjust it opening and closing speed. However, getting the correct adjustment can be quite tricky. And the fire-door would remain heavy to open.
  • With a bit more investment, the building owner could have installed fire-doors with see-through panels, so that people approaching the door from one side can see who is on the other side.
  • For high-traffic entrances – like the main building entrance – an automatic door could have been installed. This would have allowed easier entry especially for people having their hands full.
  • The building designer could have asked the question: Do all doors really need door-openers? Consider the case of the main entrance of each apartment unit. An observation of occupant’s behavior would indicate that most would keep their doors shut most of the time for their property and personal security – thereby self-fulfilling the need to have fire-doors closed most of the time.

In conclusion, ergonomics should be considered when implementing any safety devices, even for a simple item like safety doors and door-closers. Safety devices should not introduce other safety hazards.

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