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Fire Safety for Facilities Management Personnel – Means of Escape – Part 116

September 20, 2021 11:48 am

Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF) is a specialist fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy whose aim is to give information on best practice in fire safety for facilities management personnel through this blog series. In part 115, LWF considered the relevant design codes for means of escape. In part 116, we talk about design codes for means of escape, how they are applied and alternatives to prescriptive codes.

Historically, means of escape design codes were entirely prescriptive. Recommendations were laid out and although some flexibility was possible in theory, in practice, very little seemed to be allowed by many enforcing authorities.  More recently, design codes support the premise of flexibility in design.

Indeed, where figures are quoted for travel distance, for instance, the lack of rigidity is emphasized to ensure the principles of effective fire risk assessment remain paramount.  That is not to say that every officer of every enforcing authority interprets the guidance in the same way; it may be that some are more inclined towards ‘the rules’, while others are happy to accept designs showing alternative solutions.

BS 9999 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 brought with them a more flexible and holistic approach to the design of fire precautions through fire engineering. It takes all relevant factors, even including management standards, into account.

The provision of appropriate means of escape remains an area of contention between owners/developers/occupiers and the enforcing authorities. There is not always consistency between the requirements of one fire and rescue authority and another, and inconsistencies are possible between two officers from the same authority. It is perhaps understandable that such inconsistencies are the case when a system is in place where each situation is assessed individually through a fire risk assessment. Perspectives on the outcomes will vary.

The prescriptive guidance relating to means of escape and travel distances has been argued to be arbitrary, but it is also true to say that it is conservative and so it has been rare for people to die in a non-domestic environment complying with those recommendations.

The changes to regulation and the emphasis on fire risk assessments mean that building designers can utilise the flexibility now offered to provide a means of escape that fulfils safety needs, while also allowing workable solutions to support more innovative design.

In part 117 of this series, LWF will look at the principal aspects of design when planning means of escape, or assessing the adequacy of such in an existing building. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.

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.

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