Once a fire has started, been detected and a warning given, everyone in your premises should be able to escape to a place of total safety unaided and without the help of the fire and rescue service. However, some people with disabilities and others with special needs may need help from staff who will need to be designated for the purpose.
Escape routes should be designed to ensure, as far as possible, that any person confronted by fire anywhere in the building, should be able to turn away from it and escape to a place of reasonable safety, e.g. a protected stairway. From there they will be able to go directly to a place of total safety away from the building.
In offices those who require special assistance (e.g. very young children in a crèche and some people with disabilities) could be accommodated on the same level as the final exit from the premises to facilitate escape. Where they need assistance to evacuate, you should make sure that there are sufficient staff to ensure a speedy evacuation and that the staff are trained.
The level of fire protection that should be given to escape routes will vary depending on the level of risk of fire within the premises and other related factors. Generally, premises that are simple, consisting of a single storey, will require fairly simple measures to protect the escape routes, compared to a large multi-storey building, which would require a more complex and inter-related system of fire precautions.
When determining whether your premises have adequate escape routes, you need to consider a number of factors, including:
The people present in your premises will sometimes just be employees, but some of the time will be a mixture of employees and members of the public. Employees can reasonably be expected to have an understanding of the layout of the premises, while members of the public will be unlikely to have knowledge of alternative escape routes.
The number and capability of people present will influence your assessment of the escape routes. You must ensure that your existing escape routes are sufficient and capable of safely evacuating all the people likely to use your premises at any time, including events such as sales. If necessary you may need either to increase the capacity of the escape routes or restrict the number of people in the premises.
In the event of a fire, it is important to evacuate people as quickly as possible from the premises. Escape routes in a building should be designed so that people can escape quickly enough to ensure they are not placed in any danger from fire. The time available will depend on a number of factors, including how quickly the fire is detected and the alarm raised, the number of escape routes available, the nature of the occupants and the speed of fire growth.
Older buildings may comprise different construction materials from newer buildings, and may be in a poorer state of repair. The materials from which your premises are constructed and the quality of building work and state of repair could contribute to the speed with which any fire may spread, and potentially affect the escape routes the occupants will need to use. A fire starting in a building constructed mainly from combustible material will spread faster than one where fire- resisting construction materials have been used.
If you wish to construct internal partitions or walls in your premises, perhaps to create a sales area or to divide up an office area, you should ensure that any new partition or wall does not obstruct any escape routes or fire exits, extend travel distances or reduce the sound levels of the fire alarm system. Any walls that affect the means of escape should be constructed of appropriate material.
Depending on the findings of your fire risk assessment, it may be necessary to protect the escape routes against fire and smoke by upgrading the construction of the floors, ceiling and walls to a fire-resisting standard. You should avoid having combustible wall and ceiling linings in your escape routes. You may need to seek advice from a competent person. Any structural alterations may require building regulation approval.
In general there should normally be at least two escape routes from all parts of the premises but a single escape route may be acceptable in some circumstances (e.g. part of your premises accommodating less than 60 people or where travel distances are limited).
Where two escape routes are necessary and to further minimise the risk of people becoming trapped, you should ensure that the escape routes are completely independent of each other. This will prevent a fire affecting more than one escape route at the same time.
When evaluating escape routes, you may need to build in a safety factor by discounting the largest exit from your escape plan, then determine whether the remaining escape routes from a room, floor or building will be sufficient to evacuate all the occupants within a reasonable time. Escape routes that provide escape in a single direction only may need additional fire precautions to be regarded as adequate.
Exit doors on escape routes and final exit doors should normally open in the direction of travel, and be quickly and easily openable without the need for a key. Checks should be made to ensure final exits are wide enough to accommodate the number of people who may use the escape routes they serve.
It is essential that escape routes, and the means provided to ensure they are used safely, are managed and maintained to ensure that they remain usable and available at all times when the premises are occupied. Inform staff in training sessions about the escape routes within the premises.
Corridors and stairways that form part of escape routes should be kept clear and hazard free at all times. Items that may be a source of fuel or pose an ignition risk should not normally be located on any corridor or stairway that will be used as an escape route.
The means of escape you provide must be suitable for the evacuation of everyone likely to be in your premises. This may require additional planning and allocation of staff roles - with appropriate training. Provisions for the emergency evacuation of disabled persons may include:
People in your premises must be able to find their way to a place of total safety if there is a fire by using escape routes that have enough lighting. Where any escape routes are internal and without windows, or your premises are used during periods of darkness, including early darkness on winter days, then some form of backup to the normal escape route lighting (emergency escape lighting) is likely to be required.
In small premises, where the escape routes are simple and straightforward, borrowed lighting, e.g. from street lamps where they illuminate escape routes, may be acceptable. Where borrowed lighting is not available, suitably placed torches may be acceptable for use by trained staff.
In larger, more complex premises it is likely that a more comprehensive system of electrical automatic emergency escape lighting will be needed to illuminate all the escape routes.
Where people have difficulty seeing conventional signs, a 'way-guidance' system may need to be considered.
Signs must be used, where necessary, to help people identify escape routes, find firefighting equipment and emergency fire telephones. These signs are required under the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 (or Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996 and must comply with the provisions of those Regulations.
A fire risk assessment that determines that no escape signs are required (because, for example, trained staff will always be available to help members of the public to escape routes), is unlikely to be acceptable to an enforcing authority other than in the smallest and simplest of premises where the exits are in regular use and familiar to employees and visitors.
For a sign to comply with these Regulations it must be in pictogram form. The pictogram can be supplemented by text if this is considered necessary to make the sign more easily understood, but you must not have a safety sign that uses only text.
Where the locations of escape routes and firefighting equipment are readily apparent and the firefighting equipment is visible at all times, then signs are not necessary. In all other situations it is likely that the fire risk assessment will indicate that signs will be necessary.
Notices must be used, where necessary, to provide the following: