Fire exits: a guide for businesses

fire-exitSafelincs operates a fire safety forum where people’s fire safety questions are answered by professionals. We followed the numerous queries regarding fire exits in businesses and have created a list of the main concerns that were raised and answered:

Just for clarification – What do we mean with fire exit (doors) in this article?

Mostly, this terms refers to final fire exit (doors) leading to the outside of a building, although the term is also correctly used for all doors inside the building on routes that are leading to the final fire exit. In this article we refer to FINAL fire exits when we mention fire exits or fire exit doors.

Any door leading to the outside is potentially a fire exit, including your normal entrance

In the event of a fire it must be possible for staff and visitors to evacuate your premises as quickly and as safely as possible. This is often through the door by which your staff or the public entered. However, additional fire exits will often be installed to reduce the escape distance or to provide an alternative exit in case the main entry/exit is blocked by fire. Sliding or revolving doors must not be used for exits specifically intended to be used as fire exits. Doors leading to enclosed courtyards might also not be suitable as fire exits.

Final Fire exit doors can be left open

Security may of course be a separate issue, but it is completely acceptable to have final fire exit doors standing open on, for example, hot days. The only time that this should not happen is if the final fire escape door is also acting as a fire resistant door – although this would be very rare. The issue of fire exit doors left standing open is getting regularly confused with the issue of internal fire doors which must be kept shut.

Fire exits must be easily openable from inside the building

Fire exit doors must not be locked or fastened in a way preventing them being easily and immediately opened by any person who may use them in an emergency. There are a variety of ways to secure fire exit doors in a way that allows easy opening by anybody from the inside in the case of an emergency:
Panic bars (also called push bars or crash bars) are used where large numbers of people are attempting to travel at speed through a fire exit, as minimal pressure on the bar releases the locking mechanism.
Emergency push pads are similar to push bars but feature a small pad as opposed to a horizontal bar. They should only be used where a panic situation is unlikely to arise in an emergency evacuation scenario e.g. when only staff familiar with the building and not members of the general public are using the exit.
• The Redlam emergency bolt (often wrongly called Redlam panic bolt) is designed for emergency doors which are not in normal everyday use and should only be opened for maintenance and testing. The bolt is NOT suitable for public areas.
• The Kingpin emergency bolt is similar to the Redlam bolt; when the handle is pulled, the Kingpin breaks into two pieces, allowing the spring-loaded bolt to retract and thus release the door. The door can, at all times, be used for non-emergency purposes by a key holder. Again, this bolt is not suitable for areas used by the general public.
• A maglock (short for magnetic lock) holds the door shut using an electromagnetic force between a magnet and a steel plate. Typically they can have a keypad for access from outside and a green quick release button inside for use in an emergency. These systems can be wired into alarm systems that automatically release if the fire alarm system activates or the power supply fails.

Fire exit doors must not be locked whilst a building is in use

However, when a building is unoccupied it can be locked as securely as required. If dramatic security measures like chains, padlocks or steel bars are required, the first person entering the building in the morning must remove all of these. It is generally recommended to create a wall mounted board in the entrance area with the shapes of the security devices (eg padlock) used painted red on which the removed padlocks etc are then hung. This is a visual aid to stop staff forgetting that doors are still locked. Forgetting to unlock security devices could lead to severe prosecution. We would therefore recommend to only use proper panic bars etc. These can offer excellent security and allow safe escape in case of an emergency.

Fire exit doors can be any colour

The important thing is that the exit doors are clearly signed.

Fire exit doors should open in the direction of escape

However, in the workplace it may be permissible to have an exit door opening inwards if it is providing excess for less than 60 staff without public access.

The more people use a building the greater the number of fire exits required

The minimum width for a fire escape catering for 60 people or less is 750mm. For full details of width requirements versus number of users and for the number of exits required, the Building Regulations area of the UK Government’s Planning Portal should be consulted. (Approved Document B – Fire Safety) . See also our full help guide

Emergency routes and fire exits must be indicated by signs

Fire exit routes need to be marked clearly with emergency exit signs and have to be sufficiently lit, even when the electric power supply has failed. Therefore emergency routes and fire exits usually require emergency lighting of adequate intensity in the case of failure of the normal lighting. Final fire exits signs can be illuminated themselves or externally lit by an emergency light.

Emergency routes and fire exits must be kept clear of obstruction

Final fire exit doors should never be blocked from the inside or outside. Equally, the internal escape routes must not be blocked. Items that are a source of fuel, pose an ignition risk, or are combustible and likely to increase the fire loading or spread of fire, should not be located on any corridor, stairway or circulation space that will be used as an escape route. Such items include portable heaters, (bottled gas or electric radiant heaters), gas cylinders, etc.

If the fire exit leads onto a road or car park a sign is needed to say ‘No Parking’
If possible a barrier could also be put in place.


  1. Fire exit doors must not be locked whilst a building is in use

    However, when a building is unoccupied it can be locked as securely as required. If dramatic security measures like chains, padlocks or steel bars are required, the first person entering the building in the morning must remove all of these.

    Is there a legal reference for this please?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *