Asbestos Fire Doors
These day asbestos and its related dangers are common knowledge amongst most tradesman and much of the community. But what many people don't know including handyman and tradesman, is many old fire doors built in the 60's, 70's, 80's and possibly some in the 90's contain asbestos.
Asbestos is hard to identify and lab testing is the only proper way to determine if a fire door contains asbestos or not. I always assume that any old fire door contains asbestos. There isn't much to go by for locksmiths who work on these doors everyday unless they have done there own research.
Asbestos in fire doors is supposed to be contained, therefore deeming it safe. You could assume annual fire safety checks would include inspecting fire doors for possible asbestos breaches. No not really! The reality is that in the two decades of being a locksmith, I have seen thousands of fire doors that have had additional locks fitted, small cracks, splits, exposed screw holes, all which have most likely released asbestos at some stage or still are.
Fire Door Exposing Fibre
On close inspection of an asbestos fire door everything looks safe. No exposed holes, no small cracks or long spits. What a relief you may think! Well sorry but there is only bad news. Did you check the top edge or bottom of your door? My understanding is many old fire doors were fitted with no top or bottom timber edge, therefore exposing asbestos and as a general rule if you don't disturb asbestos then it's deemed safe and I would have to agree. Or do I?
Bottom of Suspected Asbestos Fire Door
Let's discuss the design of asbestos fire doors and what happens when these doors are slammed shut, usually due to faulty door closers. These doors consist of the exterior timber veneer, asbestos sheets and many with an air cavity in the middle. When these door slams, the cavity can act as a bellow forcing loose fibres out through any open gaps. With the doors slamming, I consider the asbestos as being disturb. It could crack or chip away or just be rubbing on the floor or door jam. Which ever way you look at it, asbestos fire doors are very bad news.
Door Viewer/Knocker Exposing Suspected Asbestos Fibre
You Can See the Fibre Sheeting
The image above is shocking. I suspect the door viewer was installed by a handyman or the owner. Whoever installed it would of been exposed to asbestos along with anyone in the vicinity. The occupier is constantly being exposed everytime he or she peeps out the hole, especially of there is a slight breeze coming through the hole.
Locksmiths are placed in a very difficult position when it comes to old fire doors. For example, it's late at night and your old lock on your old fire door is faulty and you can't get in. The locksmith opens the lock without removing it and you are now inside. But the lock needs replacing otherwise the door can't be locked. If the locksmith removes the lock it could possibly expose asbestos and there is a chance the fibres becoming airborne and falling onto the floor. Therefore the locksmith should not remove the lock without the proper precautions and qualifications. Some locksmiths will explain the situation and not remove the lock and some locksmiths will carefully inspect the lock hole and proceed, risking their own health and others.
I'm always seeing new locks on old fire doors. Most locksmith won't drill holes in these old doors but you will find some locksmiths who will but only because they are not aware that it is asbestos. Some handyman will as they also may not be aware.
Most locksmiths will (with caution) rekey a lock on old fire doors. With most knobsets, the front knob can be taken off without removing the lock entirely, making it safe to rekey. Deadlocks are more complicated but can also be rekeyed safely if special care is taken. But this can depend on the deadlock brand and model.
Friable Asbestos within Knobset Hole
Look closely at the photo above. You can see the suspected friable asbestos inside the hole. Locks such as knobsets ARE NOT designed to be airtight, therefore it is possible for asbestos to escape and release into the air even when the lock is on the door, especially when the lock has become loose. I have seen many loose locks on old fire doors.
I think public awareness is the key factor for this problem and this is where the government has failed us all. I conducted a half hour search on the web and couldn't find one government agency who mentioned fire doors as a possible place where asbestos could be present. I also couldn't find any mention of locksmiths on the list of tradesman being at risk of exposure to asbestos.
If asbestos is as hazardous as we are led to believe then why has the locksmith industry been left out in the cold by the government? And what about the thousands of families living in units who are potentially exposed to asbestos every time they enter or exit their unit door? One could argue that asbestos is everywhere and fire doors are no different, but you need to consider that fire doors are a moving component of a unit block and they are used by everyone everyday. These fire doors are kicked, slammed, bashed, drilled and are just falling apart from old age. The door hardware is old, broken, hanging off or completely missing. If you think I might be exaggerating, please ask a locksmiths who works in a area with lots of old units.
Here are some of my thoughts of how we could reduce the risk of exposure from asbestos in fire doors:
- Annual fire door inspections should include inspecting for damaged doors. I have a feeling it is already a requirement of the inspection but is seldom adhered to.
- Doors with exposed sheeting either at the top or bottom should be tested for asbestos and be replaced if confirmed.
- A permanent notice should be displayed in the foyer explaining that fire doors may contain dangerous asbestos. The sign displaying ACM does not go far enough as I've had residents ask me what does ACM mean.
- Asbestos reports carried out on unit blocks should have compulsory fire door testing instead of being left out of the report or classed as unknown - testing required to identify.
Thanks for reading and I hope this article has answered some of you concerns about fire doors.