The LWF Blog

Fire Engineering for Healthcare Premises – The Human Element – Part 52

September 13, 2021 11:30 am

In LWF’s blog series for healthcare professionals, our aim is to give information on best practice of fire safety in hospitals and other healthcare premises. In part 51 of Fire Engineering for Healthcare Premises, LWF considered Fire Service intervention. In part 52, we will discuss the human factors influencing fire safety design.

When a fire engineered design is in progress for a healthcare building, one of the foremost issues to ascertain is how the building will be occupied. It is necessary to protect the building occupants from fire and to do so, the maximum number of people who may occupy the building must be ascertained. In addition, the likely distribution of the building occupants must be established.

A healthcare building operating at maximum capacity will have, for example, a number of in-patients on each ward, outpatient clinics, theatres, laboratories, waiting rooms, refreshment areas, staff areas, etc., all of which will be occupied to a greater or lesser degree. In addition, the time of day will certainly have an impact on the population in certain areas. At night, it is likely there will be less people in the entrance areas, waiting areas and out-patient departments.

The number and distribution of building occupants is not the only important element when considering the human factors relevant to fire safety design. The occupancy will have other characteristics that may affect how they respond to a fire situation and their behaviour can affect the outcome of a fire scenario.

Some building occupants will have a defined role within the building population (staff, for example), fire safety training, familiarity with the building etc. will all serve to help ensure an appropriate response to a fire situation.

Other factors must be considered. Age, gender, any disabilities or injuries which may serve to restrict an effective evacuation should be taken into account.

Human behaviour in a fire situation can mean that the initial fire cues are ignored. A simple alarm sound in an unfamiliar environment, particularly one where they may be waiting for medical treatment, can result in no action whatsoever. Informative alarms are much more productive. Alarms which give straightforward messages on the situation and ask people to evacuate are shown to be much more effective than a typical alarm sound. In other words, a simple alarm may result in building occupants simply waiting for further instruction.

However, in a healthcare environment, there may be dependent and vulnerable patients who would be unable to evacuate without assistance and any audible alarm could cause agitation, stress and confusion.

In Part 53 of LWF’s blog series, LWF will discuss staff responses to fire alarms. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this blog, or wish to discuss your own project with one of our fire engineers, please contact us.

Lawrence Webster Forrest has been working with their clients for over 25 years to produce innovative and exciting building projects. If you would like further information on how LWF and fire strategies could assist you, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.


Share this post