This is a question now facing all owners and constructors of residential care facilities. Although the requirement is clearly set out in the Building Regulations, or in the case of existing homes, the Government guidance document Fire Risk Assessment: Residential care premises, many homes are still do not have these facilities.
The need for Swing Free systems
In care homes, many residents frequently visit their rooms or indeed choose the stay in them during the day.
Door Closers, even DDA compliant versions, are generally far too heavy for frail residents to open unaided and almost impossible for walking frame and wheelchair users. Furthermore many residents stay in their room during the day, the doorway being their route to communicate with other residents and staff. If the door is closed the resident is isolated and if too frail to open the door, is unable to leave the room. Hold-open devices are not the answer since in general these are inoperable by residents. The door is generally held wide open which helps mobility but strips away a resident’s right to privacy. I have been in many care homes where the bedroom doors have been wedged open or held back with a hold-open device leaving a dressing resident in full view of people using the corridor. Moreover many residents feel insecure if their door is not left open just a crack at night to let in some light from the corridor. This is impossible to achieve with hold-open devices.
What is Swing-free?
These devices are fitted in place of an overhead closer. They disengage the closing action during normal use leaving the door free and easy to use, effectively mimicking the action of a normal door. The system is connected to the fire alarm so that when activated, the closer re-engages and brings the door to a close from wherever it has been left. One of the most popular swing free devices is the now out-dated Briton 996 (pictured). Although functional, this older type of unit is large and bulky resulting in an undesirable institutional look to the home. Modern units such as the TS range from Dorma and Carefree from Holdfire, directly control the hydraulics using a small electrically operated valve inside the unit. The result is that the units are the same size as a conventional door closer and much smoother to operate.
A problem with all swing free systems is that they leave the door uncontrolled in normal operation. In a care environment, this can introduce new risks. Being uncontrolled means the door easily drifts from its position perhaps due to an imbalance caused by gowns etc. hung on the back of the door or even just a slight draught. More dangerously, suction caused by open windows or indeed a malicious resident can easily slam the doors. A 60Kg fire door slamming shut with a resident’s fingers curled around the door frame just does not bear thinking about. These issues have been picked up in the Government published document, Fire Risk Assessment: Residential Care Homes which stated:
“Free swing devices may not be suitable in some situations where draughts are a problem and the doors are likely to swing uncontrolled, causing possible difficulty or injury.”
The latest product on the market, Carefree Plus, offers a swing free system specifically designed to overcome the risks of uncontrolled swing free systems. The door is under hydraulic control at all times. As with conventional swing free systems, the door opens easily but if an attempt is made to slam it shut, a damping action arrests the door before it reaches the frame. In addition, a slight hydraulic drag, imperceptible to users, has been introduced to the motion of the door. This ensures that the door will not drift if unbalanced or in slight draughts removing altogether the incentive for residents or staff to wedge doors.
In summary, while there are a number of approaches available, for care facilities, if promoting freedom, mobility and choice for the resident is the priority, Swing Free systems, particularly those that maintain control of the door, offer the most advantages.