Fire Engineering and Performance-Based Building Codes

Many countries now have ‘Performance-Based’ building codes and buildings are getting more and more reliant on fire engineering to satisfy the building code ‘Performance Requirements’ under ‘Alternative Solutions’. This is discussed in further detail in Part 8 of this White Paper.

Recent advances in lift and building technology has allowed the use of passenger lifts to provide a form of evacuation under a ‘performance-based’ solution. However, there must be appropriate signage to advice occupants of the arrangements and how the accessible means of egress can be provided out of the building. Accessible exit signage, showing refuge areas, locations of evacuation chairs, if evacuation lifts are available and accessible exit doors must be part of any exit sign solution.

An ‘Alternative Solution’ can be defined as a building solution which complies with the ‘Performance Requirements’ other than by satisfying the prescriptive ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ provisions of a building code. A performance-based approach to compliance provides practitioners with a strong degree of flexibility to determine the most appropriate means for demonstrating compliance with the relevant ‘Performance Requirements’. This therefore allows some level of creativity in how compliance (or a compliant building solution) can be achieved and often sees the introduction of new materials, technologies or methodologies, which could also see some efficiencies, safer buildings, better outcomes and cost savings, whilst still meeting the relevant Performance Requirement.

When considering the use of an ‘Alternative Solution’ as part of an overall egress solution to a building, the International Standard on Accessibility ISO 21542 says that a fundamental objective of any fire engineered solution for evacuation is that there shall be “alternative, safe and intuitive evacuation routes away from the scene of a fire”.[1]

ISO 21542 could also be considered when developing ‘Alternative Solutions’, which provides additional guidance and the following principles:

  • The building should support successful evacuation for every occupant whatever their own abilities, to be able to evacuate to the maximum degree possible. It is however acknowledged that in existing buildings or those with a vertical degree path it may not be possible to independently evacuate and assistance may be required to exit the building.
  • The concept of protection and evacuation of all occupants should be incorporated at an early stage of design development.
  • A vertical evacuation path is more stressful for occupants, particularly those with mobility impairments.
  • The fire engineered solution must consider which occupants (based on characteristics and abilities) can be evacuation from the building and which occupants would need to move to a safe refuge area.
  • The fire engineered solution must consider the ability for any staged or partial evacuation, dependant of fire characteristics and the triggers for a vertical evacuation.
  • The ability to use all passengers lifts in new buildings to evacuate occupants.
  • The ability to upgrade passengers lifts in existing buildings to evacuate occupants.

[1] International Organisation of Standardization 2011, International Standard ISO 21542 Building construction – Accessibility and usability of the built environment, 1st edn, ISO Copyright office, Switzerland, Clause 15.6, p.45

Buildings need exit and emergency signs to identify parts of the accessible means of egress. An Accessible Exit Sign Project Initiative.

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