All public and commercial buildings need adequate fire exits and escape routes to ensure the safety of occupants. This general principle is commonly understood and widely applied, but the precise requirements of UK Fire Regulations regarding fire exits are not always understood. Organisations therefore sometimes risk non-compliance with fire safety regulations, even when they have wide-ranging fire safety procedures in place.
Here is a summary of what current UK legislation says about fire exits for public buildings.
What Is A Fire Exit?
A fire exit is not simply a final escape door, it is much more than that but primarily is made up made up of 2 parts:
Part 1 - The escape route which is the route from any part of the building leading to a final exit, includes the unprotected and protected escape route.
Part 2 - This the final exit door which is the termination of the fire escape route leading to the open air or a space allowing rapid dispersal of persons away from the potential danger of smoke or flames.
The unprotected escape route should be limited in extent so that people don’t have to travel too far to either reach a place of safety, such as the final exit, or a protected escape route. The protected escape route is a structure that is a sterile area sealed from the immediate dangers of smoke or flame, such as a protected stairway, which in turn leads to the final exit.
It should fulfil six criteria:
- The escape route leading to the exit must be as direct as possible
- The evacuation must allow persons to evacuate as safely as possible from immediate danger
- The quantity, size and locations of exits must take into account the occupation, use and size of premises
- Fire doors and exits should open in the direction of travel
- No doors along the escape route should be locked or secured such that persons escaping the building cannot release them quickly and safely
- Escape routes and exits should be adequately lit and have the correct signage
The minimum width, quantity and maximum travel distance of escape routes and exits from a room, or storey, is typically based on the number of occupants. For instance, in a single level office with no more than 60 people, including visitors, occupying the building and the final exit is no more than 18m from the furthest point, 1 exit would be sufficient.
A workplace would generally have at least two fire exits, however, under certain circumstances 1 exit may prove to be sufficient such as a limited quantity of occupants. The exits should be linked to clear evacuation routes which allow all employees, and occupants, to exit the building to a place of ultimate safety should a fire be discovered or the fire alarm sound. An external muster point, to ascertain everyone has left the building, should be situated away from immediate danger, and not in a location that would hinder access for emergency services. The route to the muster point should ideally follow a route which will not place the evacuating occupants in danger, e.g. no exit should open directly onto a road where occupants could be put at risk from passing traffic. In most offices, fire exits lead out onto a car park or open communal space.
The two exit routes should be placed as far away from each other as possible, to minimise the chance of a fire blocking both exits, and if from the same room or level be at least 45° apart and not lead onto the same escape route.
Some buildings will need more than two fire exit routes. There is no specific rule for this, but the number of exits must allow all building occupants to escape quickly in case of a fire. Therefore, large or unusually shaped buildings (e.g. warehouses, hospitals), buildings with a lot of occupants and multi-storey buildings will normally require more than two exit routes.
Construction & Design Requirements
Fire exits have to comply with several design standards for them to be considered adequate escape routes. These are the main requirements to consider:
- Fire doors must be capable of being manually unlocked from the inside
- Fire doors should be side hinged and open in the direction of travel
- Exit routes should have a ceiling at least 2 metres in height, excluding doorways, and remain clear at all times
- Fire exit routes should have a level floor and be kept free of obstructions and flammable materials
- The minimum accepted width in a new building is 800mm and 750mm in an existing building
Staying Compliant With UK Fire Safety Regulations
It is the duty of the responsible person for a building to manage any fire risk on the premises which includes as far as reasonably practical ensure that everyone on the premises can escape safely in the event there is a fire.
British fire safety legislation is contained within at least three acts of Parliament; the Building Act 1984, the Fire & Rescue Services Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Find out how to identify hazards, plan your building layout around fire safety and install the most cost-effective alarm systems in our free Guide to UK Fire Safety Regulations. Click here to access your copy today.