Hazards Corridors & Escape Routes

Existing layout and construction

In many shops, and increasingly in offices, the design is for open-plan areas allowing customers and employees to move freely throughout the floor. Traditionally, occupants are advised to shut doors when escaping from a fire but in open plan areas there are few doors to shut. In these areas the fire, and especially the smoke, may spread faster than expected.

To assess the risk in your premises you need to evaluate the construction and layout of your premises. This does not mean a structural survey, unless you suspect that the structure is damaged or any structural fire protection is missing or damaged, but rather an informed look around to see if there are any easy paths through which smoke and fire may spread and what you can do to stop it. In general, older buildings will have more void areas, possibly hidden from view, which will allow smoke and fire to spread away from its source.

Whatever your type of building, you may need to consider typical situations that may assist the spread of fire and smoke such as;

•Vertical shafts, e.g. lifts, open stairways, dumb waiters or holes for moving stock around.
•False ceilings, especially if they are not fire-stopped above walls.
•Voids behind wall paneling.
•Unsealed holes in walls and ceilings where pipe work, cables or other services have been installed.
•Doors, particularly to stairways, which are ill-fitting or routinely left open.
Particular hazards in corridors used as escape routes

Items that are a source of fuel, pose an ignition risk, or are combustible and likely to increase the fire loading or spread of fire, should not be located on any corridor or, stairway or circulation space that will be used as an escape route.

Such items include;

•Portable heaters, e.g. bottled gas (LPG) or electric radiant heaters and electric convectors or boilers.
•Gas cylinders for supplying heaters.
•Cooking appliances
•Unenclosed gas pipes, meters and other fittings.

However, where more than one escape route is available and depending on the findings of your risk assessment, items such as those below may be acceptable if the minimum exit widths are maintained and the item presents a relatively low fire risk;

•Non-combustible lockers.
•Vending machines
•Small items of electrical equipment (e.g. photocopiers)
•Small coat racks and/or small quantities of upholstered furniture and furnishings