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Fire Protection Association (2012): 'Arson has become the single most frequent cause of fire in buildings of all kinds, resulting in loss of life and injuries, enormous financial losses, business interruption, damage to the environment and loss of heritage buildings. Each year more than 60 people die and 2000 are injured in fires that are deliberately lit, while the annual cost of arson in England and Wales is estimated at £1.3 billion.

It is important for any fire safety manager or 'responsible person' to gain an awareness of the problem of arson and methods for minimising the threat.'

The Home Office: 'The diverse motives of arsonists, vandals and criminals mean that no home or business is immune from an attack.'


Anti-arson | Arson proof | Fire proof | Anti-burglary | Anti mail theft | Anti-theft | Anti-vandalism | Flood proof | Anti-terrorist | Saves energy | Cuts CO2 emissions


External doors security and fire safety

 

Final exits doors security and fire resistance

The final exits on an escape route in a public building are known as fire exits. Under Article 14 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) it is mandatory that the entire escape route up to and including the final exit from a building must remain unobstructed at all times. This is also the requirement of the Building Regulations.

Final exit doors are frequently designed to be inaccessible from the outside to prevent unauthorized access into the building. However, if the final exit door carries an unprotected letter plate, there is a possibility that fire and smoke or other harmful substances can spread into the building from outside through the letter plate. This can undermine or completely cut off the main escape route. For example, this happens as a result of a letterbox arson where the fire is introduced through the letter plate deliberately

For the final exit door to be fit for purpose measures must be taken to ensure that the letter plate is protected. This is also true if the final exit door with a letter plate is a fire door.

Depending of the premises the final exit door may need to be a fire door. For example, the entrance/exit doors of flats that are facing the common areas (like in blocks of flats and houses in multiple occupation), must be fire doors. This is essential for the 'compartmentation of flats' - limiting the spread of fire and smoke in case of a fire that may originate in the flats or in the common areas.

'Fire rated' letter plates are currently allowed in fire doors, but this is wrong because they are not the same as the protected letter plate.

The fire rated doors and doorsets are tested to meet the UK Standard BS 476:1987 Pt. 20/22 and Pt. 31.1 or BS EN 1634-1:2004 (1634-2 or 1634-3) with the flap of the 'fire rated' letter plate in closed position. One of these tests pass is all that is required by the official guidance to get the fire door to the market. Clearly, the tests are not realistic compared to a real world environment. These products are useless if we want to protect a property and the residents who are behind the door rather than just the structure of a door.

It is odd that a 'fire rated' letter plate is not tested when the flap is open although it is known that on site the position of the flap is unpredictable. Whereas the fire resisting entrance door to the flat is expected to be closed and even locked, the flap of the 'fire rated' letter plate can be open or partly open for a number of reasons no different to the flap of an ordinary letter plate.

The flap may fail to close because it is jammed by the mail items or a rolled-up newspaper, frequently for hours. It may fail to close correctly due to malfunctions that will arise during and after any maintenance period. In addition to unintentional failure, the flap can be open with a variety of malicious intents, like for letterbox arson.

For allowing 24 hours random mail deliveries the building managers and residents cannot control the letter plate flap to be closed at all times as it is expected from them in the case of the fire doors.

Any fire safety professional will tell that most fire deaths are not caused by burns, but by smoke inhalation. Cold smoke through the open or partly open letter plate, which contains odourless and tasteless carbon monoxide gas CO, would be the primary killer at the early stages of fire before the intumescent lining, which should be activated by the high temperature, can go into action. When the smoke becomes hot the expansion of the intumescent lining will be obstructed by the items, which can be stuck inside the letter plate. This will undermine the 'fire rated' letter plate protection against the hot smoke too.

For that reason, one cannot simply rely on the 'fire rated' letter plates to make fire doors fit for purpose as the final exit doors. They cannot always protect against spread of fire and smoke and never protect against letter box arson. The letter plates are the usual targets for vandalism and arson. When such inadequate security is confronted with a criminal it is totally unfit for purpose and worthless. Like the ticking bomb they can create a serious problem in any property. 

The fire door with the unprotected fire rated letter plate has no fire, arson, intruder, crime or vandalism resistance and would instantly fail the fire and smoke resistance test. 

Source - Chiltern International Fire Ltd:

'A letter plate will only have a fire resistance integrity when in the closed position. If the letter plate is open it would instantly fail integrity by the 25mm gap gauge criteria.'

Such 'fire doors' are not fit for purpose as final exit doors. Fitting these products put residents at risk of internal and external spread of smoke and fire through the 'fire door'. This is unheard of in any other country.

We think that the logic behind this message is clear. Fire doors tests must reflect real life. The current testing regime for fire rated doors and doorsets with a letter plate is notoriously imperfect. The gap between the fire door and the frame over 2 to 4mm wide would not be accepted, but they do not see a problem with the large aperture of the letter plate. It is important to recognize the possible route for smoke and fire leakage through the letter plate.

Since security comes with a price, the degree of protection can be based on the risk assessment. Ideally, the letter plate in fire doors must be protected against spread of fire and smoke even when the flap is open, or at least, as a minimum specification, it must be protected against the letter box arson, which is the serious threat to all premises be they residential, commercial or industrial. RISCAuthority regards arson as a problem that has grown since the 1950s to the extent that over 40% of all fires in industry and commerce and over 20% in residential properties are now lit deliberately.

The testing regime for doors and doorsets with a letter plate must be reviewed to ensure it includes the real-world factors when they will be installed and used in a building

PowerPrize Limited was the first one to raise this issue and campaigned for many years to deliver the message. Hopefully, in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, more attention will be given to fire safety and the situation will change.

 

Grenfell fire

Eyewitness accounts have verified that fire and smoke travelled freely between floors and within the singular escape route inside the building. How could this possibly happen with fire spread across the external cladding outside of the building?

While the officials and regulators are investigating and hypothesizing over the cause of the fast spread of the fire (cladding, lack of sprinklers, faulty wiring, etc.), there is evidence that within the Grenfell Tower fire doors to flats were not fit for purpose for at least one reason - because they had an unprotected letter plate, and some of the letter plates were not even 'fire rated'. This is also true for the similar apartment blocks across the UK, for example, in Chalcots Estate, London Borough of Camden. They are still a fire risk.

One does not need to wait for the results of the Grenfell fire investigation to understand that putting an unprotected letter plate on a fire entrance/exit door runs the risk of utterly catastrophic consequences. This is a feature in the fire door that could undermine the compartmentation of flats and fire protection of the common escape route. And with these doors the fire could be easily started by arson through the letter plate if someone wanted.

Why we are so tolerant of 'fire rated' letter plates that put lives at risk and destroy properties when this can be easily avoided?

This case should be a wake-up call to the very real threat of the unprotected letter plate. It is time to acknowledge that the risks associated with the unprotected letter box are real and can be deadly. Without protecting the letter plate can we say that this will not and cannot happen again?

Prohibiting the use of the letter plates on final exit doors would solve the problem but at the expense of compromising the traditional mail deliveries. For that reason this is not always suitable. The problem can be addressed by fitting additional protection means behind the letter plate, which would ensure that the door will be fit for purpose even when the letter plate flap is in open position and protect against the letter plate related risks.

To view what is available on the market visit Specifying secure letter box.

Click to view how IdealGuard™ secure by design multifunctional eco letter/mail box will protect against letterbox arson and ensure that be it cold or hot smoke it will be contained and not penetrate the property.

 

Owners/managers

For owners/managers of the premises, which are covered by the mandatory legislation, protecting the letter plate for preventing arson is a legal requirement. This is covered for Fire Risk Assessment purposes by BAFE Scheme: SP205 Version 2: December 2012 and a number of Guidance documents, including ASFP Guide to Inspecting Passive Fire Protection for Fire Risk Assessors (paragraph 3.3) and in the Guidance document on fire safety for blocks of flats (paragraph 43.2).

In case of an accident owners/managers are risking hefty fines or even imprisonment. The insurance company can refuse the payout if it turns out that the mandatory legislation requirement was not met.

If you are a 'responsible person' and do not want to end up with a court judgement against you, take a notice that entrance/exit doors with the unprotected or under-protected letter plate would often fall short of the demands for fire safety imposed by the currently mandatory legislation, in particular the RRO and Building Regulations 2013 Part B

Fitting IdealGuard™ secure by design multifunctional eco letter/mail box will ensure the letter plate superb security against all nomenclature of potential threats without disruption to mail deliveries.

The product is superior to any other letter box and ideal for the landlords and housing providers, owners/managers and occupants of commercial and domestic properties. It appeals to insurers and offers real peace of mind to everyone concerned.

Making the property more secure and the insurance claims less likely IdealGuard™ products may reduce insurance losses for the insurance companies, the property owners and occupants.