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Keeping Fire Stairs Safe
May 2, 2016

Fire isolated stairs are constructed mainly for use in emergencies. The Building Code of Australia (BCA) Performance Requirement DP2 requires all stairways be constructed to provide safe passage in relation to the nature, volume and frequency of likely usage. BCA DP2 also requires suitable balustrades but allows concessions where use is for emergency purposes or is infrequent.

Sometimes when inspecting multi-level buildings it becomes obvious that occupants routinely use fire isolated stairs as a means of movement between floors. In these circumstances is it reasonable to consider whether

  • a duty of care arises to provide safe passage under workplace safety rules,
  • liability arises for building owners to maintain safe passage,
  • obligations arise to provide suitable access for people with disabilities.

The question that should be asked by all persons charged with the responsibility for maintaining building occupant safety is whether safe passage is preserved notwithstanding changes to the nature, volume and frequency of usage.

In our experience most fire isolated stairs fall short of ‘safe passage’ expected from frequently used stairs.

Building and workplace management are advised to assess fire isolated stairways for slip, trip and fall risks if continued frequent use is likely or permitted. Presuming tread and riser dimensions are compliant, risk reduction in most stairways would typically include

  • ramping trip points (often at thresholds where floor finishes/levels often change),
  • improving lighting levels (painting a whitish colour may improve lux levels),
  • fitting edges of treads and landings with non-skid nosing strips (in contrasting colour),
  • upgrading balustrading to be 865 mm high above stair nosings and 1 m high above landings (save for 500 mm transition between stairs and landings), with openings that do not permit passage of a 125 mm sphere and without footholds between 150 mm and 760 mm above floors where a potential fall height ≥ 4 m exists,
  • considering requirements for tactile indicators in AS 1428 Design for access and mobility, if members of the public regularly use the fire isolated stairs,
  • regularly cleaning away dust and dirt to maximise slip resistance of treads and landings.
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