Fire and exit doors are vital for safety and quick escape during an emergency. As such, employers have responsibilities to their employees and other building occupants to ensure that doors and exit strategies are up to scratch. Below we outline the key elements of making sure your exits are safe and compliant with BCA guidelines.
Best practice maintenance and operation requirements for exit and fire doors
Emergency exits are vital for the fast, safe escape of occupants from a building when there’s danger lurking. Following the best practice guidelines of BCA will ensure that your building compliant and your employees understand their responsibilities.
The single most important regulation is that emergency exits must always be unlocked from the inside. This means that the exits can be opened instantaneously with a single downward action when leaving the building and don’t require a key. The locking of these doors from the inside can be considered an offence and it is important for everyone’s safety that access is always unhindered.
The specifics of maintaining safe fire and exit doors vary depending on the building involved. For example, the guidelines for factories are different to those for an office. Below are the safety essentials that cover all workplaces and the key aspects of safe and compliant exits.
- Adequate lighting for employees with normal-standard vision.
- No obstructions, including decorations, furniture or other equipment.
- Clear markings to indicate non-exit doors and passages, i.e. ‘toilet.
- Identify each door required by E4.5 of the BCA to be provided with an exit braille sign and state: “Exit”; and “Level” ; and either the floor level number; or a floor level descriptor; or a combination of floor level number and floor level descriptor.
- Doors should open in the direction of evacuation, i.e. they push away as people leave the building, rather than having to stop and pull.
- Fire doors should have self-closing mechanisms to contain the fire and smoke.
- Fire doors are required to have a “Fire Safety Door, Do Not Obstruct, Do Not Hold Open” sign on both sides of fire exit doors or doors that rest between individual fire compartments and the approach side of doors leading to fire exit or fire stair. Note, special offence notice is required in NSW.
A final word on creating safe and effective exit routes
When discussing this topic, the exit route that leads to safety is every bit as important as any other aspect. Exit routes are a permanent part of the workplace and it is important that they:
- Don’t have highly-flammable furnishings and décor in their path
- Are maintained during construction, repairs, or alterations.
- Do not travel towards high-hazard areas without effective protective measures in place.
- Never include locked doors or dead-end corridors.
In some cases, it’s also necessary to have panic exit devices installed on certain pathways. These devices allow larger volumes of people – such as in theatres, halls or crowded spaces – to surge against an exit door in an emergency evacuation. Without these, you run the risk of injury (or even fatalities) if there is significant panic. These panic exit devices prevent this from happening by allowing the device to burst outwards when enough pressure is applied.
To ensure your workplace is kept up-to-scratch on the latest safety guidelines, make sure you regularly check your building regulations, codes and standards. If in doubt, make sure you consult an BCA representative or construction consultant to help you identify if your space meets all benchmarks.