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Secret risk assessor - September 19

12 November 2019

Doors on escape routes may not have to offer fire protection, but they need meet particular requirements, which the secret risk assessor outlines here.

This month I have been given the topic of doors. That is the brief from the editor. Now the first thing I needed to do was check on previous articles so as not to repeat myself, just on the off chance that anybody reads more than one of these pieces. That identified that in October 2018 I covered fire doors, where they should be and how to maintain them. If you haven’t read that one yet then I am assured there is a back-catalogue on theFSM website (www.fsmatters.com)

I thought that this time around I would look at doors on escape routes, not necessarily ones that are required to offer any degree of fire protection, but ones that must be used by somebody exiting the building in the event of a fire.

The simple and basic principle that all fire risk assessors should follow is that all doors on the exit route should be easily openable, with one action and without the use of a key.

Maglocks and similar electro-magnetic security devices are often used in workplaces to secure the final exits against people entering the building. Often there is a button on the inside of the door to allow routine egress, however the fire risk assessor must establish whether these doors are linked to the fire detection and alarm system to ensure they fail safe to the open position in the event of an alarm activation or power failure. I have been in buildings where the maintenance team have identified as part of the fire drill that these doors can not be opened, however they have done nothing about it.

Similar devices are often fitted to the pedestrian exit routes from underground car parks in order to prevent unauthorised access from street level. These exits are rarely tested by the building management team and are often overlooked despite being a signed and designated fire escape route from often large car parks.

Redlam boltsare still commonly seen in a number of buildings and require the use of a small hammer to facilitate the opening of the door. It should be remembered that these devices are not suitable for public access areas. More importantly is the fact that I have genuinely lost count of the amount of times I have seen these devices in place with the hammers missing. The other question the risk assessor should ask is “how do we test the doors open correctly?” There should be a way of removing the glass safely and ensuring the door can be easily opened, that it has not, for example, warped or swollen into its frame. 

Panic and push bars are a very common type of single action device for doors on escape routes in public buildings. The main benefit to them is that in the even of a rush of people to the exit, the unfortunate person at the front who may be getting pushed along by the crowd will not need to stop to open the door. All well and good unless the panic bars don’t work. The risk assessor should push each and every one to ensure the doors actually open. If the person walking you around says you can’t because they are alarmed then ask for the alarm to be turned off. I have done exactly that and found out the door could not be opened.

Thumb turn devices are another common device that can be found of doors within buildings. Whilst it may seem a petty recommendation to many, the risk assessor should ensure that suitable signage is in place directing building users to how to use the device. I am not ashamed to say I have spent a good few seconds spinning these devices around as I wander which direction I am supposed to be turning them.

It would be remiss not to mention the fact that the fire risk assessor should assess the number of people likely to be using a building as this will have an effect on the number of exit doors needed and the width of exits doors provided.

As a rule of thumb:

1 exit can accommodate up to 60 people

2 exits can accommodate up to 600 people

3 exits can accommodate more than 600 people


750mm can accommodate up to 60 people

850mm can accommodate up to 110 people

1050mm can accommodate up to 220 people

Then over 220 people would require 5mm per person

But make sure to remember to discount the largest exit if there are two or more, and that if they are within 45 degrees of each other then they count as one exit. These two rules are to ensure we have accounted for a fire occurring and removing access to one of the doors.

So, if you are a fire risk assessor, or if you employ one to do a job for you, then expect to see a tape measure in use, especially for buildings with large numbers of expected people.

The Secret Risk Assessor is a well-known risk assessor in the fire industry.