Under most construction contracts, the contractor takes on the ground conditions risk. However, a recent case has demonstrated that the risk can fall on the employer.
Following the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government's (MHCLG) first press release in May regarding defective doors produced by Manse Masterdor, a second press release was announced on 31 July 2018 raising wider concerns. This press release announced that doorsets produced by a further four manufacturers have now been found not to have achieved the required level of fire resistance.
The Grenfell fire tragedy in 2017 emphasised the need for effective fire safety measures in social housing buildings, particularly regarding the efficacy of fire compartmentation of individual flats in high rise blocks. Effective fire compartmentation relies on the fire resistance of external cladding materials, firestopping at floor slab level, and the fire resistance of the flat entrance door assembly; comprising both the door, the frame, and the seal between the frame and the structural opening. For residential buildings, entrance doors to each dwelling must achieve the FD30s standard as a minimum, that is, they must be able to provide at least 30 minutes fire resistance and a cold smoke barrier.
In May of this year, it became apparent that the doorsets manufactured by Manse Masterdor used at Grenfell did not adequately achieve the FD30s standard. MHCLG commissioned testing, which found a fire resistance of only approximately 15 minutes - half the minimum requirement. This discovery raises serious concerns about resident safety, whether “stay-put” policies remain appropriate, and how best to replace defective doorsets.
MHCLG’s latest briefing adds further doorsets to the list of those failing in recent tests to meet the FD30s standard of fire resistance. In total, doorsets produced by the following five manufacturers are now known to have failed fire testing (although it has not been confirmed which specific products were tested):
- Manse Masterdor;
- Masterdor Limited (the successor business to Manse Masterdor);
- Specialist Building Products Limited, trading as Permadoor;
- Solar Windows Limited; and
- Birtley Group Limited, trading as Bowater by Birtley.
Although the test reports have not yet been made public, the latest MHCLG press release will naturally be of significant concern to social housing providers.
So, what should social housing providers do in light of these concerns? The replacement of fire doors, and recovery of costs from the contractor or designer responsible, can appear both complex and costly, but given the critical importance of fire safety, the following steps can and should be taken to identify and help manage the risk:
- Identify if any properties have been fitted with doorsets manufactured by the above companies;
- Arrange for appropriate levels of inspection of the affected fire door installations, and review the fire risk strategy for the properties, including escape routes, stay-put policies, cladding, and any other factors affecting fire safety;
- Review the building contracts under which the affected doors were installed to identify who is responsible for the selection of materials and goods, and to assess whether it is possible to recover the costs of any remedial scheme. Engaging legal advice from specialist construction solicitors can assist in this process and ensure that a remedial scheme supports a claim against the contractor or designer responsible;
- Engage a contractor, and relevant professional consultants, to remove and replace the affected doors. This can either be the contractor who originally installed the doors, or a different contractor, depending on the appropriateness of engaging with the original contractor. In either instance, remedial works contracts need to contain a clear scope of work, the specification for the replacement doors (including a requirement to achieve FD30s as a minimum standard) and a rigorous sign-off process for the installation of replacement doors.
If you have concerns about the fire resistance of any other manufacturer’s doors not covered by the MHCLG briefing, arrange for a qualified body, such as the Building Research Establishment, to test a sample.
Anthony Collins Solicitors are actively advising a number of social housing providers in relation to Grenfell-related fire safety issues, including investigation and remediation of defective cladding, fire doors, and wider fire safety issues.
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