Escape routes

Important advice and guidance for Heads of School/Department


In the event of a fire it is absolutely vital that all building occupants should be able to evacuate safely within a reasonable time.  Escape routes must therefore be maintained as fire-sterile as possible – and in particular, it should be virtually impossible for a fire to actually start within an escape route.

It should be noted in this context that for some persons with disabilities, a reasonable or actual escape time may be considerably longer than for others.

Under official guidance relating to current fire safety legislation all corridors, atria, lobbies, staircases etc., i.e. all circulation routes, are classed as emergency escape routes (the previous notion whereby only certain routes were designated as Means of Escape no longer applies).

Sources of heat or ignition and fuel

In principle and in general, sources of heat or ignition – including all electrical equipment – should not be present in escape routes.

In practice, and since official guidance effectively allows some judicious degree of variation subject to specific Fire Risk Assessment, certain electrical equipment may be tolerated in certain escape routes depending upon local conditions and features.  In some such University locations items like photocopiers, printers and vending machines are indeed present.  However, if any electrical equipment is to be newly introduced, or if there is uncertainty regarding full Fire Risk Assessed approval of the presence of such an item in an escape route, the University’s Fire Safety and Environment Adviser must be consulted in the first instance.

Another possible source of ignition is the deliberate setting of a fire.  Official guidance specifically requires that these risks are assessed and controlled.  For this reason waste bins (especially paper recycling bins) and other readily ignitible items must never be present in escape routes, and open pinboards, posters, stationery supplies etc. must be kept to an absolute minimum and strictly controlled (see Appendix 1).  It should be noted that there have been instances of arson at the University in the past, thankfully with fairly minor consequences to date, including a fire in an academic office corridor in 2007.

In all locations, combustible matter and sources of heat and ignition should be separated by a distance of at least 500mm.  In escape routes, in addition to the other requirements and recommendations given in this document, they must never both be present in the same area.

Protection of escape routes

Escape routes are protected from the ingress of smoke and fire from adjoining rooms and areas.  This is achieved by fire-resisting construction (walls, ceilings and floors) forming separate fire-tight cells within buildings.  The integrity of these cells also relies on fire doors.

As an absolute requirement, all designated fire doors must be kept shut, or be able to self-close automatically, at all times.

Room doors should be kept closed unless someone is present in the room, and occupants should be made aware of the need to close all room doors in an emergency evacuation if safe to do so – basic safety information, instruction and training should cover this but management should actively promote and monitor these practices.  Where reliable good practice cannot be demonstrated for whatever reason, further measures may be required.

Special consideration should be given to rooms that are not specifically/constantly occupied and where there are appreciable fire risks, such as printer and photocopier rooms: doors to these may need to be designated as fire doors and kept shut or fitted with automatic holdback or self closing mechanisms (this will often be critical and necessary in dead-end corridors – see Appendix 2).  Management should contact the University’s Fire Safety and Environment Adviser if uncertain.

Significant change

In the event of significant change being planned in relation to any aspect referred to in this guidance note, review of the Fire Risk Assessment is mandatory and the University’s Fire Safety and Environment Adviser must be consulted in the first instance.

Appendix 1 Guidance on notice boards, pinboards, posters and display materials

In order to provide safe, fire-sterile Means of Escape, building regulations require that the surface treatment of walls and ceilings in corridors, atria, lobbies, staircases etc is “Class 0” or non-combustible: even conventional wallpaper is prohibited.

The introduction of open noticeboards, posters, literature racks and other displays including combustible materials obviously compromises this protection drastically.   Such items should normally be avoided in escape routes.  Again, possibilities such as arson should be considered along with possible rapid spread of flames and smoke, and the likely effect on the ability of occupants to escape safely.

Displays such as those mentioned above, where present in escape routes, must be

  • Fire Risk Assessed, especially if required to be present in dead-end corridors* or staircases
  • kept away from sources of heat and ignition
  • minimised in area coverage and sufficiently separated to limit flame spread, i.e. one moderate-sized board or area several metres away from the next, and away from curtains, electrical fittings  etc.

and should be (or where critical, in some cases, must be)

  • encased or covered with sufficiently fire-resisting material (e.g. glass or flame retardant polycarbonate; NOT transparent perspex/acrylic) – or:
  • themselves (i.e. all leaflets, postings etc) fire retardant or suitably treated with a fire retarding agent
  • positively managed/controlled – for example: postings should not be excessive, i.e. not more than one layer deep; postings should not be allowed to accumulate (active, regular removal of obsolete items should take place);  postings should be fixed down at all four corners.

*    In dead-end conditions (i.e. where there is a single direction of escape) the other requirements and recommendations
listed above are especially critical; in some cases open noticeboards and posters will need to be prohibited.  See also Appendix 2.

Appendix 2 Dead-end corridors (single direction of escape)

These locations must receive particular attention under Fire Risk Assessments.

The normal requirements and recommendations for the physical protection of the escape route from smoke and fire spread, and proper management of the space and its occupants – as described throughout this document – are greatly enhanced and critical in these locations.

Room doors in these corridors will normally be fully specified fire doors with self closing mechanisms.  Local management of these (see Protection of Escape Routes, above) must be rigorous.

If there is uncertainty regarding full coverage of any such location and its current features and contents within the building Fire Risk Assessment, the University’s Fire Safety and Environment Adviser must be consulted in the first instance.