Fire Escapes - what are the rules?

Page Outline: 

Introduction to Fire Escapes

Persons who manage or control workplaces must ensure entering and leaving the workplace is safe and without risks to health as practicable.

The specific requirements applying to fire escapes (and hallways leading to fire escapes) are found elsewhere - as builders, architects etc would be aware. Buildings must now comply with the Building Code of Australia - which has been given the status of building regulation by Australia's states and territories.

NOTE: NCC 2015 was adopted as law by the States and Territories on 1 May 2015. It is updated and adopted regularly. NCC 2020 is now available and has been adopted by the States and Territories.

The information on this page is general and for HSRs and workers only.  Employers and builders must seek separate advice from qualified architects or other suitably qualified professionals. 

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Fire Escapes in the OHS Act 2004

Under health and safety legislation occupiers of workplaces have duties with regard to emergency exits from buildings. Section 26 of the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004 specifies that persons who 'manage or control workplaces':

  1. A person who (whether as an owner or otherwise) has, to any extent, the management or control of a workplace must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health.
  2. The duties of a person under sub-section (1) apply only in relation to matters over which the person has management or control.

This clearly means that the occupiers of workplaces must ensure that emergency exits are adequate at all times.

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Fire Escapes in the Compliance Code

Further to this, the following can be found in the Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment (2008)


Access ways
120. Movement in and around workstations needs to be free of obstructions such as plant, furniture, materials or other employees.  Employers need to ensure that the space for employees to move and work between plant, equipment, structures and materials should be at least 800 millimetres. This is to enable employees to safety work between machines, benches or counters. It will also allow them to escape quickly in an emergency.

121. Aisles, passageways and access to cupboards, storage or doors need to be in addition to the calculated clear workstation space.

Responding to emergencies:

Emergency exits
158. In workplaces that are buildings, the location of doors needs to be appropriately marked and signs need to be posted to show the direction to exit doors to aid emergency evacuation.  Employers need to ensure that emergency exits in buildings comply with the requirements in the Building Code of Australia, part D1 Provision for escape. 

Emergency access and egress
159. Employers need to ensure that paths to exits comply with the specifications in the Building Code of Australia, part D1 Provisions for escape.

160. Aisles and passageways in factories, warehouses, depots and similar buildings need to be kept free of furniture or other obstructions at all times and clearly marked to enable the routes to the exits to be seen in the event of an emergency. For example, side boundaries can be marked by a permanent line of white, yellow or clearly contrasting colour at least 50mm wide or by glowing markers.

This means that WorkSafe inspectors will look to ensure that fire escapes are unimpeded and can be used safely in an emergency - if they suspect that there are problems with egress, or the width of the passageways, then they will refer the matter to the local council.

Advice from a local council is that generally speaking, all fire escapes should be at least 1 metre wide. In addition, the Code states that 'it may be necessary to liaise with local government bodies when determining which legislative provisions (eg Victorian Building Regulations or UBR's) are appropriate for things like the 'means of egress' from a workplace.

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See Also:

Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment [2008]

More information on Fire and Emergency Evacuation on this site.

The National Construction Code - 2019: The Building Code of Australia and The BCA Guide (This is available from here) It is free to access once you have registered (go to the NCC registration page to register and get access to the Code and guide). 
NOTE: the National Construction Code 2020 is now available on a revamped ABCB website.

Last amended October 2020

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