Swing Door Closers - Expert Overview

Many swing doors are equipped with mechanical devices that either assist in closing the door when open (closers) or to both close and open the door (operators). When closers or operators malfunction or are not properly adjusted, they can be a hazard to door users.

In this article, Architect & Premises Safety Expert, Anthony Fenton details the use of swing door equipment, and the standards for proper maintenance and operation to prevent injuries.

Swing Door Closers – Expert Overview

There are two primary types of door closers: Spring and Hydraulic. They are differentiated by the type of mechanism providing the force to close the door:

Spring: These basic closers use a spring to pull the door to the closed position. The spring can connect the head of the door to the top of the door frame, as is often seen on residential screen doors. The springs can also be incorporated into the hinges of the door, where they are not visible.

Hydraulic: Hydraulic closers are commonly used on doors in commercial facilities. The typical unit includes a spring in a tube that provides the closing force, while a fluid filled cylinder regulates the closing speed. The spring and hydraulic assembly is enclosed in a box that is commonly mounted near the top of the inside face of the door. Hydraulic closers can also be mounted to the face of the head of the door frame, concealed above the door head within the door frame, or below the door beneath the threshold.

A hinged arm connects the spring and hydraulic assembly to the door frame. When the door is pushed or pulled open, the spring collects the energy and compresses. When the door is released from an open position, the spring expands and pushes on the arm, swinging the door closed at a set rate of speed regulated by the hydraulic cylinder, to a position short of full closure. At that point, if there is no latch, the rate of swing can be reduced to prevent the door from slamming shut. If there is a latch the door will accelerate slightly to overcome the friction of the latching device.

Low and High Energy Operators

Swing door operators are divided into two categories, low and high energy, which are differentiated by the speed and force with which the door moves.

Low Energy operators are generally found at exterior or vestibule handicapped accessible doors for commercial buildings. The operating mechanism is mounted to the door frame header and is typically larger and boxier than a traditional hydraulic closer.

Signage is required indicating that there is an operator on the door. Door opening is controlled in one of two ways. Most commonly there are metal push plates bearing the standard accessibility symbol on both the inside and outside of the door. When the plate is pushed, the door swings open, holds in the open position for a set period, and then swings closed.

“Power Assist” doors are activated when an individual either pulls or pushes the door. The user’s pressure on the door triggers the operational cycle. Some manufacturers of Low Energy operators offer the option of including safety sensors known as “presence sensors” to prevent the door from closing until the user has safely cleared the doorway and the area of the door swing.

High Energy operators, referred to in standards as “Power Operated Pedestrian Doors,” are most often encountered at grocery and retail stores where shopping carts are in use. These operators are required to have additional safety features because they operate with greater force and speed than other door operator types.

A door that closes with excessive force can cause injury to a person within the door’s swing path. A door that requires excessive force to open is an impediment to individuals exiting the building in an emergency. A door that closes too quickly can strike someone before they’ve had time to clear the swing path, causing an injury.

Standards

Standards and codes have been developed to provide limits for the force and speed of door closers and operators. These standards and codes generally provide for the reasonably safe use of the door by the public. Accessibility to facilities for individuals with disabilities is dependent on the installation of closers and operators that allow the users to open doors with reasonable ease and pass through them safely.

The Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) is a trade association of commercial building hardware companies. BHMA has developed and published industry standards for the operation and testing of door hardware in association with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). These standards define proper operation and adjustment of doors with closers and operators, including requirements for safety such as maximum closing forces and minimum swing times.

When door closers and operators are not properly adjusted or maintained, the doors they are mounted on can be dangerous to users.

Model codes adopted by municipalities and other government authorities also include requirements for door closers and operators. Fire and life safety codes regulate building elements encountered by building occupants exiting a facility during an emergency. The nationally recognized and regionally adopted codes regulate the force required to open doors equipped with closers or operators. While the code requirements are focused on door operation during emergencies, they also provide increased safety for building occupants during normal use.

Inspection & Maintenance

Door closers and operators, especially those on exterior doors, require regular inspection and maintenance by qualified personnel who are familiar with the codes, standards, and manufacturer’s instructions. Property managers should ensure that those who maintain and adjust closers and operators are adequately trained to know and follow the relevant standards. Records of inspections and maintenance of closers and operators should be retained by property owners and property managers for use in investigating accidents that may occur.

Closers can be misadjusted by maintenance staff members that are unfamiliar with the standards. A common misadjustment of the closer or operator on an exterior door is setting it to operate with too much force in an attempt to have it close “better” in windy conditions. This results in the door closing too quickly, leaving users with insufficient time to pass through the opening, and with too much force, which can cause an injury.

Premises Safety Investigations Involving Door Closures

Door closers and operators are a necessary component of many buildings for the convenience and safety of building occupants. However, if they are improperly maintained or adjusted they can pose a safety hazard to occupants, resulting in injuries. The premises safety experts at Robson Forensic have investigated many such incidents, and are conversant in the industry standards governing doors at retail, residential, and commercial premises.

For more information, contact the author of this article or submit an inquiry.

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