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Padlocking of exit doors in almost empty venue


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When premises are complety empty and unattended it is common practice to secure some of the exits shut with a padlock and chain, in order to reduce the risk of burglary.


No sensible person would permit the exit doors to be secured thus when the public are in the venue.


But what about when a handfull of persons are working in the venue ? do ALL exits have to be available in such circumstances, or could one reasonbly argue that the front doors, and one other exit (on the oposite end of the building to the front doors) is sufficient.


The venue in question is a large village hall with a capacity of from 200 to 280 persons according to the nature of the use.

The building is rectangular, with the front doors in one short side, and a small stage accros the other short side.

There are 4 fire exits, two in each of the longer sides, these are double doors equiped with panic bolts, and secured with padlocks and chains when the venue is empty.


At one side of the venue there is a small kitchen, with a single exit door. This is secured with two strong bolts but no lock, openable from within without any key being needed.


Behind the satage there is another single door also secured with strong bolts and no lock.


The fire risk assement refers to these 2 smaller doors as "secondary exits"


At present, the 4 fire exits normally remain padlocked when only a handfull of staff are present, it being considered that the front doors, and the two secondary exits provide sufficient means of escape for small numbers of persons who are familiar with the premises.


My view is that this not acceptable AT PRESENT becuase there is no emergency lighting near these single exit doors, and the means of opening the door may not be obvious (dark green bolts against a dark green door, and an obsolete keyhole that could imply that a key is needed)


My view is that it WOULD be acceptable with emergency lighting, and with the bolts painted red or white to make the means of opening clear, and the obsolete keyholes filled in.


What do others think.

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When you say bolts on the secondary exits, do you mean sliding bolts?

Are they both final exits?


Any door classified as a final exit or anywhere along a route should open by hand or body pressure alone. This means they cannot have handles to turn or bolts to slide.


I would argue that even with familiarity of the venue, one may react to an incident in an unpredictable manor and completely forget that there are bolts on the doors.


It may be justifiable to only open one of the chained doors during low occupation but to be honest I see no reason not to remove the padlocks and chains. Seriously, how long does this take...a minute or two.


Regardless of the number of occupants, I am not convinced that the backstage and kitchen doors are suitable as emergency exits at all, based upon your description of their method of opening.


The kitchen is THE most likely source of a fire in most village halls and should have a proper fire exit with push pads or bars.


Further more, if the side exit door furniture has been installed correctly, then no further security should be required. I can understand that the door may be made of glass but then the potential thief will still be able to access the hall via the hole they have just smashed and then remove any of the larger items through the current slide bolted 'secondary exits'. Chaining them up is illogical with the current set up.




This is what happens when you stop inspecting...

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how can you be sure that even when 'only a handful of staff are present' that there will not be someone in the building who does not know their way about? Meter reader? Someone making a delivery who asks to use the toilet? Children who wander in as a dare and find themselves locked in the building? Prime minister visits and leaves a child behind?


From your description it is only going to take someone a couple of minutes to do a thorough walk-round / sweep at locking-up time. Of more concern is that someone might forget or not know to unpadlock the fire exits when opening the hall.


And surely the bolts should be painted green for Safe Condition?


You must also consider evacuation of persons with disabilities who might not be able to cope with bolts.



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My view is that it WOULD be acceptable with emergency lighting, and with the bolts painted red or white to make the means of opening clear, and the obsolete keyholes filled in.


On the whole I'm inclined to agree. I might make the following adjustments...


1) Use a combined EL and maintained exit sign to make it obvious which doors to use during the day.


2) Not sure about painting the panic bars but certainly make sure they're labelled in accordance with the regs.

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Key operated, i.e. the common break glass types are acceptable for exit from non-public areas, but if the public fire doors with the panic bars are padlocked, then my view would be that isn't on. In the case of the kitchen - if there is a fire, the exit from the kitchen may be unavailable, so the only exits would be via the clearly labelled FIRE EXIT signs, so these (I feel) must be unpadlocked when the building is opened up for staff, let alone the public.
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In a word totally unacceptable. If the exits are fitted with panic bolts and still need padlocks to make them secure repair the panic bolts - it's as simple as that. Properly fitted and maintained panic bolts should need no back-up IMHO. If the panic bolts are worn out because folk habitually barge into them and blithely use the fire exits for any old purpose allowing them to slam back with the bottom bolts dragging along the ground until the whole thing looks as if it's about to fall apart - stop them! Sliding bolts on any exit doors not for me unless the bolt itself can be completely removed from the mounting when the building is occupied. This is possible and some spaces in my experience have special boxes with holes for them to sit in which give a quick visual check that they have all been removed.
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The trouble with all these silly locally imposed rules and regs is that you cannot make the fire start in a convenient place so that the only exits available are free and unobstructed....and in completely the other direction from the fire.


If you had outside contractors working in the place, say, are they really expected to remember where the "usable" exits are? Nobody can really say how they would react in a fire situation until it happens. Strikes me the more options to escape the better.

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If I went to a venue and there were sliding bolts on an exit, then I would asume that its not going to get me to safety, even if the bolts are unlocked.


Ive heard stories of people I know well trying to force themselves through the main doors when a marked fire exit had sliding bolts on it, even though they were unlocked. No one knows how people will react in the event of a fire. Get rid of the chains , locks and bolts and put proper push bars on ALL exits.


Just my 2p

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Totally unacceptable at any time.


Simply imagine standing in the middle of the room, either blacked-out because of a power failure or filled with smoke.

How would you get out? Most people would head towards the 'exit' sign, only to find that door locked.

Remember the Bradford stand only took 4 minutes from a small flame to completely engulfed.

People just don't understand how quickly fire grows and how much oxygen it sucks from the room. It it isn't the smoke that confuses you, the lack of oxygen will certainly disorient you and make any simple task almost impossible.


In reference to the Bradford fire, 'Four Minutes to Hell' by Paul firth is recommended reading.

His wife sells the book on Ebay:

Foour Minutes to Hell

It will change the way you look at fire.

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...two strong bolts but no lock, openable from within without any key being needed.


First time around I completely missed the fact that bolts were involved. I assume they are something like this...



If so, then it's a no-no.


The rules are quite clear(ish).


For spaces where more than 60 members of the public are admitted then it's PANIC ESCAPE hardware and it's bars like these...



For spaces where less than 60 members of the public are admitted then it's still PANIC ESCAPE hardware but you can use push pads...



For staff areas you can use EMERGENCY ESCAPE hardware which can be push pads or lever operated exit devices (not knob operated)...



Note the distinction between PANIC and EMERGENCY.


There are plenty of major venues I work in where the doors fitted with PANIC ESCAPE hardware are chained shut until the public are admitted.


As a visitor/contractor I should be (and usually am) given an emergency exit briefing. Same for the staff.


If you go the chained shut route then systems must be in place to ensure that they are unlocked before the public come in. This would normally involve some sort of checking-in procedure for the chains and locks.

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Actually not sure if anyone from the Alhambra is here, but they have a lovely little checking system for the chains.


By the stage door there is actually an illuminated panel. The the padlock are removed, they have some sorta little key on them. They then plug into this panel one by one. They illuminates the removed door. No spare keys to override. Works really well.



Also someone else might actually be able to confirm this. (Kerry??) When I worked in Swindon, we use to chain all the doors shut overnight as well. We were told we had to be careful, as there was a premises, that got burgled and set on fire. The guys perished, because they couldn't escape. I believe the place got convicted of something.

I don't remember any other details, but I know it was quite a big thing about 14 years ago. Im sure things have long changed. . . . but still. Was an interesting issue.

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Aside from paranoia I still can't see any reason why fire exits would ever need to be locked shut with any secondary system. If the primary system doesn't lock properly and the doors can be opened from outside then fix it or explain to a judge one day why you think it's acceptable to have broken/improper fire escape equipment and risked lives rather than spend a few pounds fixing them?
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If the primary system doesn't lock properly and the doors can be opened from outside then fix it...


The problem is that for fire safety the hardware needs to be simple so it's doesn't fail when you most need it. However, for building security it needs to be complicated. I'm not going to go into details on a public forum but anyone having a close look at a panic bar will see in seconds how to open them from the outside.


If you read your insurance documents you'll find they ask for a certain types of locks for final exits; there's no way panic bars will ever meet those specs, which is why emergency exits are excluded!


...rather than spend a few pounds fixing them?


I've just replaced some final exits locks on a venue. The locks I fitted, which complied with the insurance companies spec, were a shade under £150 each at trade price.

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...anyone having a close look at a panic bar will see in seconds how to open them from the outside.


We had 2 sets of double doors and a single replaced last year (primarily because of the degradation in security of the old ones) and I'd challenge anyone now to get in through them without a LOT of trouble. The new doors are WAY more sturdy and have various security features as standard.

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We have glass panelled doors with crash bars, and our insurers are quite insistent that unless the foyer is manned, they are to be chained shut. This leaves one door with a handle as a final exit at the front of the building, one "normal" crash bar exit from the dressing rooms, and a "palm press" on the stage door. With a workable shadow board system, we have a happy fireman (last time he looked), and happy insurers. Any strangers to the building are briefed on the exit locations.


Some of you need to get a grip; the risk from burglary is FAR higher than the the risk of a death from fire in a non-public status building. As someone says above, keeping Burglar Bill out may well prevent the fire in the first place.

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