Fire Escape Planning Considerations

fire exit sign in office

Emergency Escape Routes

Everyone in your workplace should be able to escape safely once a fire has started, been detected and a warning given, either unassisted or with assistance, but without the help of the fire and rescue service. Where people with disabilities need assistance, it will be necessary to designate staff for the purpose.

In all cases, escape routes should be designed to ensure that any person facing a fire anywhere in the building can turn away from it and escape (or be evacuated) as far as possible, either directly to a place of total safety (single-stage evacuation) or initially to a place of reasonable security (progressive horizontal or delayed evacuation), depending on the escape strategy.

A protected fire compartment (delayed evacuation) or an adjacent sub-compartment or compartment on the same level (progressive horizontal evacuation) can be a place of reasonable safety. It should be possible to escape further from there, either to another adjacent compartment or to a protected staircase or directly to the final exit.

When determining whether your premises have adequate means of escape, you need to consider a number of factors, including:

  • the type, number and dependency of people using the premises
  • assisted means of escape
  • the evacuation strategy
  • escape time and travel distance
  • the age, construction, and size of the premises
  • the number of escape routes and exits
  • management of escape routes
  • emergency evacuation of people with mobility impairment.

Who is using your Workplace?

The people present in your workplace will sometimes just be employees, but most of the time will be a mixture of employees and members of the public. Employees can reasonably be expected to understand the layout of the premises, while members of the public will be unlikely to have knowledge of alternative escape routes.

The number and capability of people present will influence your assessment of the escape routes. You must ensure that your existing escape routes are sufficient and capable of safely evacuating all the people likely to use your premises at any time, including events such as sales. If necessary, you may need either to increase the capacity of the escape routes or restrict the number of people in the premises.

How Long Does it Take to Escape?

In the event of a fire, it is important to evacuate people as quickly as possible from the premises. Escape routes in a building should be designed so that people can escape quickly enough to ensure they are not placed in any danger from fire. The time available will depend on a number of factors, including how quickly the fire is detected and the alarm raised, the number of escape routes available, the nature of the occupants and the speed of fire growth.

How Old is the Building?

Older buildings may comprise different construction materials from newer buildings and may be in a poorer state of repair. The materials from which your premises are constructed and the quality of building work and state of repair could contribute to the speed with which any fire may spread, and potentially affect the escape routes the occupants will need to use. A fire starting in a building constructed mainly from combustible material will spread faster than one where fire-resisting construction materials have been used.

If you wish to construct internal partitions or walls in your premises, perhaps to create a sales area or to divide up an office area, you should ensure that any new partition or wall does not obstruct any escape routes or fire exits, extend travel distances or reduce the sound levels of the fire alarm system. Any walls that affect the means of escape should be constructed of appropriate material.

Depending on the findings of your fire risk assessment, it may be necessary to protect the escape routes against fire and smoke by upgrading the construction of the floors, ceiling, and walls to a fire-resisting standard. You should avoid having combustible wall and ceiling linings in your escape routes.

How Many Escape Routes and Exits are there?

In general there should normally be at least two escape routes from all parts of the premises but a single escape route may be acceptable in some circumstances (e.g. part of your premises accommodating less than 60 people or where travel distances are limited).

Where two escape routes are necessary and to further minimise the risk of people becoming trapped, you should ensure that the escape routes are completely independent of each other. This will prevent a fire affecting more than one escape route at the same time.

When evaluating escape routes, you may need to build in a safety factor by discounting the largest exit from your escape plan, then determine whether the remaining escape routes from a room, floor or building will be sufficient to evacuate all the occupants within a reasonable time. Escape routes that provide escape in a single direction only may need additional fire precautions to be regarded as adequate.

Exit doors on escape routes and final exit doors should normally open in the direction of travel and be quickly and easily openable without the need for a key. Checks should be made to ensure final exits are wide enough to accommodate the number of people who may use the escape routes they serve.

Are Escape Routes Maintained?

It is essential that escape routes, and the means provided to ensure they are used safely, are managed, and maintained to ensure that they always remain usable and available when the premises are occupied. Inform staff in training sessions about the escape routes within the premises. Corridors and stairways that form part of escape routes should always be kept clear and hazard free. Items that may be a source of fuel or pose an ignition risk should not normally be located on any corridor or stairway that will be used as an escape route.

Mobility Impaired Occupants?

The means of escape you provide must be suitable for the evacuation of everyone likely to be in your premises. This may require additional planning and allocation of staff roles – with appropriate training. Provisions for the emergency evacuation of disabled persons may include:

  • stairways
  • evacuation lifts
  • firefighting lifts
  • horizontal evacuation
  • refuges
  • ramps.

Use of these facilities will need to be linked to effective management arrangements as part of your emergency plan. The plan should not rely on fire and rescue service involvement for it to be effective.


The information and knowledge contained in this article are part of our Chief Fire Warden course, Fire Safety Advisor course and Facility Fire Safety courses. For more information you should attend this training.

If you would like to know more or would like our assistance in the areas mentioned check us out at Alternately, call us on 1300 990 336 or email us at [email protected]

author avatar
Brendan Day Chief Executive Officer
Brendan Day, based in Sydney, is a WHS and Emergency Management expert with a rich background in emergency services, including significant experience as a military firefighter, emergency responder, and emergency response manager. His career spans across both public and private sector roles, where he has developed and implemented comprehensive WHS management and Emergency Management systems. As the CEO and Principle Trainer at Intrinsic Safety, Brendan combines his military discipline with modern safety practices, offering advanced training in workplace health, fire safety, confined spaces, height safety and first aid. His qualifications, including a Diploma of Work Health and Safety, reflect his commitment to safety excellence and continuous improvement in emergency response management and safety practices.
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