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February 6, 2020


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Emergency exits revisited

Protection of life and property in the event of a fire is paramount and yet difficult to prepare for; a fire’s unpredictable nature lends itself to many potentially disastrous scenarios. However, complications can be mitigated by taking care of, and understanding, one seemingly innocuous feature of every commercial and industrial property: emergency exits. Nick Attfield, from Latham’s Steel Doors explains more.

Emergency exits are important outlets that allow people to hastily escape emergency situations. Because they are mainly associated with the evacuation of fires, they are also regularly referred to as ‘fire exits’.

Planning and maintaining emergency exits have conflicting requirements. An emergency exit should be easy to open in a dire situation, but should also be safe enough to prevent unauthorised access otherwise.

How many businesses are affected by fire?

There were around 73,547 recorded primary fires in 2017/2018. Around 15,044 of these affected related to ‘business type’ buildings, which include properties such as hostels/hotels/B&Bs, nursing/care homes, student halls of residence, offices, shops, factories, warehouses, restaurants, public buildings and religious buildings.

Of these, the majority of fires are recorded in industrial type buildings, closely followed by food and drink premises.

With that in mind, if your business falls under one of these categories, we would advise taking extra precautions when evaluating your fire escape plan. You can read more tips on fire exit regulations in the workplace here.

The function of emergency and fire exits during an emergency

Emergency exits are an important part of any escape route plan. A building should have multiple emergency exits to allow occupants to escape a dangerous situation as quickly and safely as possible. Only having a single escape route may cause complications in providing a clear, unobstructed exit where there are multiple people.

The door is required to be able to operate without any external aid and should open outwards in the direction of the fleeing occupants. Escape routes should immediately lead to a safe location, preferably outside the building.

Planning your emergency exit

During an emergency the mind can be consumed by panic, diluting rational decision-making abilities.

Escape routes should be clearly marked and easily identifiable using familiar fire exit signage. Fire exits should not be blocked by structural obstacles and must be easy to open, whilst trying to evacuate, by use of adequate panic hardware. 

It is also advised to ensure fire exits are safe and built properly. Check for cracks or poorly constructed apertures; you must be confident that they will hold their structural integrity during a raging fire or an earthquake.

You should also ensure your premises has the required amount of escape routes as defined by the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (2005) (RRFSO). It states there are three factors which will influence the number of fire exit doors, “the number of occupants in the room, tier or storey in question and the limits on travel distance to the nearest exit”.

1: Number of occupants

The following are defined as the minimum number of escape routes and exits from a room:

Maximum number of people                         Minimum number of escape routes / exits
60 1
600 2
More than 600 3

Of course, it is not always possible to know the number of people in the room, so in this instance capacity of the room should be calculated on the basis of the floor space factor.

 2: Types of building

The above will apply when single story buildings are considered. Multi storey buildings present greater challenges and require greater deliberation.

For a detailed breakdown, see page 43 of The Building Regulations 2010 Fire Safety Document here.

3: Travel distance for escape

A final factor determining the number of fire escape routes required is the distance needed to travel to reach the exit. The distance actually depends on the use of the premises and whether the escape route has one or more direction of travel, but the below table shows an example of what is required for “industrial” type properties:

You should also consider the appropriate placement of the fire exit doors within a given room:

For more detail on this, see page 32 of The Building Regulations 2010 Fire Safety Document here.

Of course, a guided and well-planned escape route also makes it easier for the emergency services to make quick rescues.

Emergency exits in non-emergency situations

A great deal of consideration has been given to fire exit doors in emergency situations, however, thought must also be given to how they’re used day-to-day.

In addition to its ‘emergency escape route’ qualities, fire exit doors also need to be able to adequately prevent unauthorised access. In this way, it is usual to find emergency exits fitted with automatic door closers and self-locking panic locks. The “inside” of the door can be unlocked via a “quick push” panic bar, whilst the “outside” is unlocked via an Outside Access Device (OAD).

Where there is a need for particularly stringent security, a door control unit or alarm may also be incorporated to monitor the opening and closing of the fire exit doors.


Emergencies such as fires and earthquakes are, by their very nature, unpredictable and can be devastating to both property and life. Reviewing your business’s current escape routes and installing additional emergency exits is a good first step in preparing yourself for the unexpected but regular maintenance must also be carried out to ensure adequate safety standards are met. Consequently, systematic, annual inspections of your escape routes and equipment should form part of your fire risk assessment.

Regulations exist to safeguard those who could be impacted by fire, and to ensure anyone under your responsibility can safely escape from fire in an emergency situation.

A breach of fire safety can result in loss of life and/or damage to property. You may also be audited and fined for noncompliance with RRFSO, as the Co-operative Group discovered back in 2010 when it was forced to pay £210,000 after pleading guilty to 6 breaches of fire safety legislation.

2023 Fire Safety eBook – Grab your free copy!

Download the Fire Safety in 2023 eBook, keeping you up to date with the biggest news and prosecution stories from around the industry. Chapters include important updates such as the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and an overview of the new British Standard for the digital management of fire safety information.

Plus, we explore the growing risks of lithium-ion battery fires and hear from experts in disability evacuation and social housing.


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michael floyd
michael floyd
February 14, 2020 11:44 am

Picture very misleading – thought the article was about emergency lighting for exit routes