With winter approaching fast, facilities managers and building owners need to think long and hard about what this season brings in terms of security and safety issues for their buildings and occupants, explains Simon Osborne, Commercial Leader UK & Ireland at Allegion UK.
When winter approaches the UK, there are some common and recurring talking points that come with it. For instance, you might hear around the office the talk of crisp, cold, refreshing morning air, time off around Christmas, winter warming beverages and comfort foods.
What isn’t normally discussed around the water cooler is securing the office for long nights, protecting your building’s occupants from potential attacks, checking your external openings are secured against would-be burglars and not losing heat from the building through draughty gaps in doors. These discussions are normally reserved for the facilities managers and building owners.
Break-ins are almost talked about in hushed voices – nobody wants to think about what could happen, and people tend to think it’ll never happen anyway
Why is this? Well, these issues are not so visible and known – not everybody knows how cold temperatures can affect doors and their furniture. They are also obviously not so popular. Lastly, topics such as break-ins are almost talked about in hushed voices – nobody wants to think about what could happen, and people tend to think it’ll never happen anyway.
However, that is a dangerous mindset to take, as the winter brings many dangers. These topics should be at the top of the agenda for any person responsible for the building when the cold season strikes, not just to secure your building’s valuables, but to ensure the health and safety of occupants inside.
With that in mind, here are five common scenarios in winter and what you can do to avoid the problems they bring.
Low occupancy at closing time
By 5 p.m. in December, the night has drawn in and darkness has enveloped the building. Normally around this time, most office workers are leaving or will have already left for home. The last to leave is given the task of locking up the building.
Of course, if you work in a densely populated urban area, attacks might seem less likely; however, if your place of work is on a business park or estate where it may not be as well-lit and protection from footfall is not as great, then you are more susceptible to becoming a victim.
To deter or prevent would-be attackers, use of timed access control systems can automate the process of locking up. This also means that you can lock down entrances to the building from a single tap of a button on your smartphone or desktop computer and make sure that, should access be needed during the night, only those authorised and known to the person responsible for the building can gain entry.
Use of exit devices that have been tested above and beyond the standard security grading can also protect your building and its contents. Installing floodlights and CCTV is a good way of keeping your building from becoming a target.
Door swelling and contracting
Door swelling is a major problem to external doors, frames and even windows. Just as the summer heat will cause doors to expand, the cold of the winter can shrink doors back down and cause doors to swell as they absorb moisture, causing problems for both the door and the operating components.
For example, a swollen or bowed door can cause door locks to move out of line and jam against the strike plate, or can also bend the arm of a door closer. This is problematic for a number of reasons.
If users with reduced upper body strength need to open these doors, they might be unable to do so. Or, if the door doesn’t latch to the frame, particularly if it is an external door, then there’s a huge problem with regards to security. In addition, for a certificated fire door, it may be illegal to have more than a 3mm gap between seal and frame, and if it doesn’t latch, then it’s not performing its fire-resistance duties.
To prevent against unwanted access, operation difficulties and legality problems, facility managers should put in place a maintenance schedule to check over these doors regularly, both before winter begins and during the course of the season.
Use of latchbolt monitor switches can also be a smarter way of checking whether doors are latched properly. These products work by sending a signal to a central monitoring station, giving confirmation of when the door is shut and secure.
Heavy duty cast iron door closers are also advised. Their all-weather fluid maintains viscosity and stability to assure maintenance-free performance, while double heat treated oversized pinions withstand wear and tear.
Air pressure changes in winter
A common misconception is that, in summer, doors slam due to the oil in the closers becoming more viscous. However, it is actually sometimes due to air pressure changes with windows being opened within the building. Whilst this is true when a vacuum is created in residential homes where no door closers are used, it is not correct for buildings where closers are in effect.
What actually happens is that when winter arrives, doors and windows are closed up to retain heat, meaning no air gets into the building. This change in air pressure causes closers to shut doors incorrectly – either not latch or shut too quickly. This is particularly prevalent for care homes and student accommodations. Air pressure can make doors harder to open as well.
For care homes, employing door closers that have a free-swing or swing-free feature, which can turn a door into a free swinging operation, can be especially useful in these situations. The door becomes easier to open for these users who may have lessened upper body strength.
Use of door closers with adjustable closing force and backcheck functionality is advised in student accommodations. The former allows students to overcome air pressure forces, while the latter prevents the door from being ‘thrown’ open and thus protects the door, door hardware and the wall behind the door from damage.
Winter inherently brings cold weather, and maintenance staff or cleaners may unwittingly assume that spraying door closers and locks with antifreeze solutions to prevent any sticking or freezing is the correct thing to do.
That’s a common misconception, and one that should be avoided. While moisture in the air can get into locks and joints and subsequently freeze and misalign your door hardware, preventative measures can be taken to prevent this.
Using a water repellent spray to stop any moisture from sticking to hardware is the best way to stop water ingress. Using antifreeze solutions is highly hazardous as the chemicals are not tested against door hardware and they will corrode the hardware materials.
Residential burglary rising
Extended dark nights mean more opportunities for burglars to be on the prowl, particularly in residential areas. The obvious reason is that lower lighting means less visibility and better chances to attack without getting caught. Older properties are more vulnerable as attackers know these buildings may have older residents and the door components are likely to be of a less secure nature.
To stop attackers getting through your doors, look at your current locks and faceplates. If they don’t have the BSI Kitemark standard, then it may be worth changing to ones that have. Locks baring this symbol means they have passed the British Standards Institution test and will have completed intrusion attacks. Door viewers, visible alarm systems and lighting are also advisable to ward off any opportunists.
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