Fire safety

Commercial buildings

The planning of the means of escape / fire safety design in these buildings is more involved.

The fire hazard of a particular type of building / contents and the kind of occupants together with their likely state of awareness have to be appreciated in the design.

The behaviour of a fire happening anywhere in the building and the response from the people put at risk has to be anticipated.

Although it is difficult to achieve a consistent standard of safety for buildings, which vary in size, location, usage, facilities and design similar initial approaches in achieving safety for the occupants apply:

  • Horizontal escape design - the provision of satisfactory escape routes and final exits based upon travel distances, level of fire protection and maximum occupancy of the building.
  • Vertical escape design - the number and protection of staircases based upon the building height/type and the maximum occupancy of the building.

As a general rule, in order to avoid occupants being trapped by fire / smoke there should be alternative escape routes provided from all parts of the building, except for circumstances where travel distances and / or occupancies can be restricted thereby allowing single routes of escape.

Lighting of escape routes - all escape routes should have adequate artificial lighting but many routes in buildings must also have escape lighting which illuminates the route of escape if the mains supply fails - this includes staircases, corridors, occupied rooms without windows and toilet areas.

Fire alarm / detection - the type of fire detection/alarm system to be provided is dependent upon the building type, type of occupancy, any sleeping risk and the means of escape strategy. The system must be designed to BS 5839: Fire Detection and Alarm Systems for Buildings.

Automatic fire detection must be installed in institutional / hotel buildings. In all other buildings, it is often strongly recommended as a compensatory feature to assist the means of escape design; as part of the operating function of fire protection systems; and / or as an integral part of the management / fire strategy for complex buildings.

It is essential that fire detection / warning systems are properly installed and maintained, therefore commissioning certificates must be provided to Building Control as evidence of quality, reliability and safety.

It is important that appropriate fire design layouts of the project are submitted to Building Control as part of the Building Regulation submission for new buildings and for major alterations / extensions to existing buildings - indicating means of escape strategy, fire separation, automatic fire detection provision, emergency lighting provision and fire alarm details.

Use of alternatives to the guidance in the approved document for Part B of the Building Regulations

A building's fire precautions may be designed in line with the recommendations of the appropriate part of BS5588 "Design of Fire Precaution in Buildings", the NHS Health Building's "Firecode" documents or "BS9999".

An acceptable fire precaution design must be one that is "holistic" for a given building and designers may not mix "Part B" guidance with "BS5588" or other documents guidance recommendations without taking great care.

New European standards and updated codes of practice for fire safety

During 2002 to 2004, there was a large scale updating and changeover to common european standards in fire safety testing within the European Union.

The UK made construction materials will increasingly be marked as tested to (BS) EN "numbers" rather than just BS "numbers".

There is no increase intended or change proposed in the actual technical performance requirements of Part B of the Building Regulations. But rather a major effort to open up the construction product supply market across Europe.

The Building Regulations aim to maintain safety - so all fire test and fire safety standards for building materials and systems will be tested against a common single standard.