Fire Safety Requirements on Exit Door Escape Routes


Organisations such as laboratories and similar properties must take into consideration the need to secure the premises to prevent unauthorised access.

However, those responsible for security must also take into consideration the fire safety requirements to ensure that in the event of danger, “it must be possible for persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and safely as possible”.

Industry guidance recognises that the “relationship between the securing of doors against unwanted entry and the ability to escape through them easily in an emergency has often proved problematical”.

Finding the balance

It is often thought that the competing requirements of allowing unhindered egress from a building in the event of an emergency and the prevention of unauthorised access are irreconcilable, and that one requirement must be compromised in favour of the other.

Certainly, Article 14 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order states that “emergency doors must not be so locked or fastened that they cannot be easily and immediately opened by any person who may require to use them in an emergency”.

As Approved Document B of the Building Regulations 2010 notes, “the time taken to negotiate a closed door can be critical in escaping. Doors on escape routes should therefore be readily openable, if undue delay is to be avoided”.

Any device that impedes people making good of their escape, either by being unnecessarily complicated to manipulate or not being readily openable has the potential to create a risk in terms of occupiers escaping the premise.

Exit doors on escape routes and final exit doors should therefore normally open in the direction of travel, and be “quickly and easily openable without the need for a key unless there are specific security reasons”.

Increasingly, there is a need for higher security in buildings such as laboratories to not only protect assets but also employees. It is therefore accepted that in many cases, the need for security will require some form of door hardware that prevents unlimited access but still enables the occupants of a building or area to open a fire door easily on the route of egress if there is a fire.

For the dutyholder, there is a balance to be drawn. According to Research and Intelligence Support Centre (RISC) Authority guidance document Security of Emergency Exit Doors in Non-residential Properties, a number of principles need to be adhered to when considering the right level of security while providing adequate means of escape.

  • All risks (and potential consequences) should be properly assessed in a structured and thorough manner.
  • Emergency exit doors must be capable of being readily and easily opened from the inside when premises are occupied.
  • Doors whose sole intended purpose is to provide a means of emergency exit, should not normally be used for other day-to-day purposes.

Fire assessment and security considerations

The number and location of emergency exit routes from a building, together with decisions concerning the suitability of different types of security device and release mechanism, will typically be considered as part of the building regulation approval and/or the fire risk assessment.

In determining the most appropriate device/s and any additional security measures deemed necessary, the following factors should be considered:

  • the group or groups of users likely to utilise the fire door/exit and their particular needs (eg public, visitors, authorised personnel only, disabled, etc)
  • the level of occupants training and familiarity with escape procedures
  • whether the doors are for day-to-day use or designated for emergency escape purpose only.

In respect of this latter point, doors used for routine day-to-day access may require differing solutions with a combination of supervision and/or access control procedures for periods of occupation but more robust physical fastening for periods of time when the premise is unoccupied.

Doors provided for no purpose other than to offer a means of emergency exit should be kept closed and properly fastened in normal circumstances. The RISC Authority notes that the inappropriate use of doors can lead to security breaches both at the time of misuse and until the breach is detected and rectified. This should be considered as part of the assessment.

To ensure that a properly balanced solution is arrived at, an appropriate assessment should be made of the security threats, be they to property, assets, intellectual property or personnel. In terms of assessing the threat, the following should be considered:

  • what can be learnt from internal and external sources about the current security climate
  • is there anything about the organisation, building or staff that might attract unauthorised access attempts
  • current security measures for the perimeter and premises (eg fencing, CCTV, intruder alarm systems, etc) and the integration of these systems
  • whether out-of-hours security will need to be greater than when occupied
  • type/s of doors that may require additional security measures, location and current security performance.

Overall, the security performance of a door is based upon a combination of its construction, frame, fittings and locking arrangements. Clearly, if fitting security hardware to a door, this can be negated if the door itself is not capable of withstanding a sustained attack by a would-be intruder.

As such, as well as security hardware, the dutyholder should be considering “target hardening” the door.

Hardware selection, use and maintenance

When selecting appropriate hardware, the general principles are to ensure that:

  • any fastenings should be simple and be readily operated from the side approached by people making an escape
  • the operation of the device must be readily apparent without having to manipulate more than one mechanism.

In small, simple premise, locks such as mortice deadlocks, sash locks and rim deadlocks may be used provided that the locks selected allow for keyless exit during periods of occupation.

More typically, “emergency exit devices” will be used including “panic exit devices”, turn handles and even break glass emergency bolts, although these may require more than a single hand operation.

There are additional security measures that can be taken to enhance the physical security of the building, without compromising the ability of people to escape during an emergency. Such measures include:

  • additional locking devices (electromagnetic or electromechanical devices) linked to the fire alarm system
  • exit devices on final exit doors equipped with local or remote audible alarms linked to a building access control system
  • installing telltale devices that provide visual evidence that a door has been opened for emergency purposes or by unauthorised persons.

Electromagnetic and/or electromechanical devices must be designed and configured to permit direct and immediate override by people seeking emergency exit from the premises. They should be released by interruption of the current and the activation of a fire detection system.

They should also allow for the interruption of the current locally by pressing an internal door release button sited adjacent to the door or a green break glass override device.

Unauthorised use of a final exit door can create security risks. As well as informing occupiers of the need to recognise the potential threats created by unauthorised use and the consequences of this if caught, devices can be installed to give warning of such use. Stop alarms, for example, are triggered if the exit door is opened, thus allowing for any unauthorised use of the exit door to be investigated immediately.

Hardware and associated systems will only be effective if used appropriately and maintained in a state of good repair and efficient working order. As such employees, as part of induction training and fire drills, should be familiar with operating procedures and there should be an appropriate regime of testing, inspection and maintenance in place.