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CROSS Safety Report

Fire exit chained closed due to COVID-19 concerns

Report ID: 975 Published: 13 August 2021 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

A key pad operated fire exit was chained closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Key Learning Outcomes

For building owners/managers/employers:

  • Be aware of exit doors that must be available to be used in the event of an emergency
  • Changes to fire safety arrangements including exits, use of rooms/spaces, external escape routes must be considered as part of your fire risk assessment
  • You may need competent assistance to help make informed safe decisions regarding fire safety arrangements 

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A report has been received from the user of a premises, part of which is an underground car park. The reporter observed that a pedestrian exit from the car park, marked clearly as a fire exit, was secured closed with a chain and padlock. The exit door had generally been available for visitors to use, access or egress being by means of a key pad or swipe card. Discussion with the manager of the facility revealed that there had been concern about virus transmission via the use of the key pad so it was decided to secure the door to prevent its use.

The removal of this exit created a 70m dead end condition. Explanation of the consequences of this led to the manager removing the chain and instigating a different approach to managing the risk of transmission, whilst maintaining emergency use of the exit if needed.

Managing fire exits in response to COVID-19

Many businesses are carrying out new ways of working to allow them to open and help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Doors are mentioned as a contact risk in government guidance. Wedging open doors is encouraged but with the caveat not to do so where the door is a fire door.

Fire safety professionals often encounter misunderstanding of the term 'fire door', hearing the words being used to describe both fire exit doors and fire resisting doors. There is usually no concern if a fire exit door is wedged open, but applying locks and chains to exits that may be required in the case of an emergency could lead to fatal consequences.

 

Expert Panel Comments

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This is an issue which does, unfortunately, occur occasionally. However, any competent manager should know that they should not lock fire exit doors without an assessment of the risk, and the text is clear that the door was marked as a fire exit. All premises require an adequate level of management, and there is plenty of advice on this in the guidance issued to support the current fire safety law in England and Wales in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), as well as for example, British Standard 9999. For those countries outside of England and Wales, please refer to your relevant fire safety legislation and supporting guidance.

Government guidance on COVID-19 for multi purpose community facilities is available. 

NFCC protection advice documents

COVID-19 and its impact on fire safety measures was something the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and UK Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) were aware of early on in the pandemic, and there was no relaxation on fire safety law. As a result and in conjunction with the wider fire safety sector, the NFCC created multiple protection advice documents which were freely available to all, which went through a number of revisions as lessons were learnt.

This particular reported issue was covered in Issue 7, with a specific reference to Means of Escape FAQs on page 8 of this document.

These documents clearly state, as does the FSO and supporting guidance, that key is the premises fire risk assessment which is a continual process of the assessment of risk. Where any changes to the fire safety measures are identified, those changes need to be reviewed by a competent person with any significant findings being reviewed and recorded, so any persons with a day to day responsibility to the premises are aware of any changes.

Where any changes to the fire safety measures are identified, those changes need to be reviewed by a competent person with any significant findings being reviewed and recorded, so any persons with a day to day responsibility to the premises are aware of any changes

What to do if you are concerned about a fire exit

Where anyone has any concerns or identifies where a fire exit is locked, they should raise it immediately with the premises management, the occupier or someone who appears to have control of the premises and can contact their local FRS for further advice.

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