The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – Fire Development & Human Behaviour – Part 3

March 8, 2018 11:13 am

In LWF’s blog series for those who work in facilities management or who have an interest in or responsibility for fire safety, we have been looking at human behaviour when a fire is developing. In part 2, we ascertained that there have been recurring situations where people are reluctant to leave a building or area where they know there is a fire because of other concerns. In part 3, we will give examples of this behaviour before looking at what has been changed in regulatory terms to help avoid unnecessary deaths and casualties in fire situations.


In 1979, a fire in Woolworths in Manchester was caused by a faulty electrical cable igniting the polyurethane foam filling in a piece of upholstered furniture. The store was very large and at the point the Fire Service arrived, there were still 500 staff and customers inside.


The majority were evacuated safely but 10 people died and a further 47 were injured. A part of the reason for the disaster was that the foam produced a large amount of toxic smoke which meant visibility was very poor as well as making breathing difficult.

The post-fire investigation found that most of those who had died were in a restaurant on the second floor. While some of the reason for this is undoubtedly that the visibility in that area was so poor people could not find the fire exits, reports were given of customers who wished to finish their meals before evacuating or pay for them before leaving.


While it might be possible to wonder if this was merely an isolated incident or perhaps the building occupants were unaware of the fire until it was too late, repetition of similar customer behaviour in restaurants was seen in further fires in later years which also resulted in casualties and deaths.


The behaviour of those customers in the restaurant has been studied and discussed in both fire safety and scientific circles in order to understand it and come up with ways to modify guidance on fire safety to help avoid repetition.

Approved Document B was revised in 2006 and states that where a building has a storey containing an area for the consumption of food or drink that the following provisions must be made:


A) Not less than two escape routes should be provided from each area (except inner rooms which meet the provisions of paragraph 3.10); and


B) The escape routes from each such area should lead directly to a storey exit without entering any kitchen or similar area of high fire hazard


In part 4 of this series, LWF will continue to discuss how people react when a fire starts and how this can be a danger. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.


Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings. 


While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.


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