The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – Fire Development & Human Behaviour – Part 7

April 5, 2018 3:39 pm

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 fire development and human behaviour. In part 6, we looked at the false belief that giving people information about a fire causes panic and irrational behaviour. In part 7, the role of people in charge and how building occupants are inclined to the most familiar route of egress, rather than the safest.


When considering the training of staff and persons ‘of responsibility’ within an organisation or building, the fact that building occupants have an expectation of guidance should be covered. When you consider a school, the example is obvious. Pupils expect to receive guidance from teaching staff as to what to do and where to go.


However, adults also expect guidance in a fire situation. When considering a hotel, guests expect staff to be able to provide information and to be in charge. In a shop, customers expect staff to know what is happening and to tell them what they must do next.


For this reason, staff fire training must encompass the necessity of anticipating this behaviour from non-staff members, or even junior staff members and should aim to prepare staff to be able to give clear instruction and assistance as required, while executing a safe evacuation themselves.


Another issue which can be dangerous in a fire situation is when building occupants are familiar with the layout, perhaps using the same entrance and exit each day for work. An established pattern of behaviour can interfere with making the best decision given the circumstances. While logically, a member of staff may know that there is a fire exit close to them which would lead them to safety, they may choose to follow their usual route to the outside world, which could put them in danger from the fire.


With this possibility in mind, it is essential that staff training addresses the likelihood of this occurrence and gives clear instruction on using the quickest, safe route from the building. This should be used during fire drills to ensure they are familiar with the environment and are more likely to make the best choice when a fire alarm sounds.


During a fire drill, the main exit from the building could be blocked off to further illustrate to the building occupants that they must consider other exits. It can also assist in determining the likely actual time of an evacuation from the building if the main exit or an alternative were unavailable for use.


Where doors which are secured by panic bars, for instance, or are connected to the fire alarm system, a check should take place following the drill to ensure that all security devices operated as required and that alarm signals were received from the alarmed doors.


In the case of new builds, building design should also be considered in the context of safe egress. While it is perfectly legal to have a main entrance and exit staircase, with other alternative exits being excluded from normal use, it would be better practice to have all alternative routes forming a part of the normal circulation of the building.


LWF’s next blog will be Part 1 of Fire Safety Management. 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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