Fire Escapes - what are the rules?

Persons who manage or control workplaces must ensure entering and leaving the workplace is safe and without risks to health as practicable.

The specific requirements applying to fire escapes (and hallways leading to fire escapes) come under the Australian Building Code, which is administered by local government. The code is complex in that issues such as the type of building, the number of workers/others likely to be in the building, the distance they need to travel to reach the outside of the building, and so on, must be taken into account.

However, under health and safety legislation occupiers of workplaces have duties with regard to emergency exits from buildings. Section 26 of the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004 specifies that persons who 'manage or control workplaces':

1) A person who (whether as an owner or otherwise) has, to any extent, the management or control of a workplace must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health.

2) The duties of a person under sub-section (1) apply only in relation to matters over which the person has management or control.

This clearly means that the occupiers of workplaces must ensure that emergency exits are adequate at all times.

Further to this, the following can be found in the Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment (2008)

Workspace

Access ways
120. Movement in and around workstations needs to be free of obstructions such as plant, furniture, materials or other employees.  Employers need to ensure that the space for employees to move and work between plant,
equipment, structures and materials should be at least 800 millimetres. This is to enable employees to safety work between machines, benches or counters. It will also allow them to escape quickly in an emergency.

121. Aisles, passageways and access to cupboards, storage or doors need to be in addition to the calculated clear workstation space.

Responding to emergencies:

Emergency exits
158. In workplaces that are buildings, the location of doors needs to be appropriately marked and signs need to be posted to show the direction to exit doors to aid emergency evacuation.  Employers need to ensure that emergency exits in buildings comply with the requirements in the Building Code of Australia, part D1 Provision for escape.

Emergency access and egress
159. Employers need to ensure that paths to exits comply with the specifications in the Building Code of Australia, part D1 Provisions for escape.

160. Aisles and passageways in factories, warehouses, depots and similar buildings need to be kept free of furniture or other obstructions at all times and clearly marked to enable the routes to the exits to be seen in the event of an emergency. For example, side boundaries can be marked by a permanent line of white, yellow or clearly contrasting colour at least 50mm wide or by glowing markers.

This means that WorkSafe inspectors will look to ensure that fire escapes are unimpeded and can be used safely in an emergency - if they suspect that there are problems with egress, or the width of the passageways, then they will refer the matter to the local council.

Advice from a local council is that generally speaking, all fire escapes should be at least 1 metre wide. In addition, the Code states that 'it may be necessary to liaise with local government bodies when determining which legislative provisions (eg Victorian Building Regulations or UBR's) are appropriate for things like the 'means of egress' from a workplace.

See Also:

Last amended July 2014 (checked Dec 2014)

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