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Fire safety signs are a familiar sight in workplaces, and there are many different types. They provide information and instruction to people on the premises on how to prevent fires, the actions to take if a fire occurs and what not to do in an emergency.
In some premises, there can be many employees, visitors and contractors. Even with staff training and visitor inductions, people can panic in an emergency and forget the information given to them. Fire safety signs can act as an essential prompt if there is a fire so people can know what to do and where to go. Hesitation and delays can cost lives.
Many believe fires are rare but, unfortunately, they are not. In the year ending September 2022 in England alone, the Fire and Rescue Service attended 185,437 fires; there were 27,202 dwelling fires, 3,695 other building fires, 276 people lost their lives, and there were 6,098 non-fatal casualties (Fire statistics – GOV.UK).
The statistics demonstrate that fires can occur on any premises and highlight the importance of having suitable fire preventive and protective measures. Fire safety signs are an example of the latter, and we will look at these in further detail in this article.
What is a fire safety sign?
The definitions for safety signs, including those for fire, are in the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996.
A safety or health sign is:
A sign providing information or instruction about safety or health at work by means of a signboard, a colour, an illuminated sign or acoustic signal, a verbal communication or hand signal.
A fire safety sign is:
A sign (including an illuminated sign or an acoustic signal) which:
- Provides information on escape routes and emergency exits in case of fire.
- Provides information on the identification or location of firefighting equipment.
- Gives warning in case of fire.
Why are fire safety signs important?
One of the main reasons why fire safety signs are important is that they are legally required under fire safety laws, such as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRFSO) 2005 (England and Wales). Scotland and Northern Ireland have different fire safety laws.
The responsible person has many duties under the RRFSO regarding fire safety.
With fire safety signage, they must indicate the following by using signs:
- Firefighting equipment, e.g. fire extinguishers and hose reels.
- Emergency routes and exits.
The RRFSO also requires the responsible person to provide employees with comprehensible and relevant information on preventive and protective measures, which they can communicate via fire safety signs.
The correct fire safety signs on the premises will ensure the responsible person complies with the law. They can face enforcement action if they do not have suitable fire safety measures, including signage.
Additional reasons why fire safety signs are important are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Fire prevention – They can prevent fires by making relevant persons aware of fire safety hazards and dangers, e.g. no smoking in flammable areas.
- Quickens the emergency response – Finding fire alarm call points and emergency telephones if there is a fire can help people get out of the building quicker and summon emergency services to control the fire before it does too much damage.
- Reassures people – There is little time to think in an emergency, and those on the premises must act fast to get out of the building. Fire safety signs provide instructions on what to do and reassurance they are doing it correctly.
- Correct equipment use – Using the wrong fire safety equipment can make a fire worse and increase the risk of fatalities and serious injuries, e.g. using the incorrect fire extinguisher on a fire, such as water on a chip pan. Fire safety signs can prevent this from happening.
- Guidance provision – Some relevant persons may be unfamiliar with the layout of the premises, especially in large ones such as hospitals and factories. Fire safety signs can help them find their quickest and safest escape route and exit. Signs also help emergency responders navigate the building.
What are the laws surrounding fire safety signs?
Remember, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRFSO) 2005 is the primary law surrounding fire safety. One of the responsible person’s duties is to have fire safety signs in specific circumstances, e.g. firefighting equipment and escape routes and exits.
The main law relating to signage is the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals Regulations) 1996. Schedule 1 of the Regulations details the minimum requirements for signs, signboards, firefighting equipment, etc.
The Building Regulations 2010 will also apply. The Approved Documents are statutory guidance on GOV.UK, which detail the requirements for fire safety signs in dwellings and non-dwellings.
If a responsible person looks after high-rise residential buildings, the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 will also apply. These laws were introduced in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. From 23rd January 2023, the responsible person must ensure they install wayfinding signage for all high-rise residential buildings in England.
The onus is on the responsible person to ensure their fire safety signage complies with the law. They can use the Approved Code of Practice and the GOV.UK assessment guides (further guidance on signs and notices) to help them. They may also be able to get advice from the local Fire and Rescue Service.
What are the rules for fire safety signs?
The rules for fire safety signs are in the laws and British, European and international standards mentioned so far.
Fire safety signs should be (this list is not exhaustive):
- Of the correct standard, e.g. BS 5499 series, BS EN ISO 7010 and ISO 3864. These standards are compatible with the regulations and have further guidance on fire safety signs.
- Clear and legible, securely fixed, large enough to be seen and not be ambiguous.
- Maintained, in good condition, visible, well-lit, and with no damage/defects.
- Replaced where damaged or defective.
- Understood by all on the premises, including non-English speakers, e.g. have the appropriate pictograms and not just text on signs. Signs with text only, e.g. ‘Fire Exit’, will not comply with the law.
- In the correct format for those with disabilities and impairments while considering reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
- Sited in suitable locations, as per the findings of the risk assessment.
- Fixed at the appropriate height, visible and free from obstruction.
- Illuminated if there is a risk of a power failure and poor lighting.
- Understood fully by employees, e.g. providing suitable information, instruction and training, so they know what they mean and how to give warnings if there is a fire.
Escape routes and exits
- Every doorway or other exit providing access to a means of escape, other than exits in ordinary use (e.g. main entrances), should be distinctively and conspicuously marked by an exit sign.
- Escape routes:
– Signage should be along the route, not just at the beginning and end.
– Signs should have directional arrows to inform people of the quickest escape route.
– Signs must have the correct symbols and not just directional arrows alone.
– BS 5499 Part 4 has further information on the requirements for escape route signs.
- Fire exit signs must be displayed immediately above the exit opening or where they can be clearly seen and are unlikely to be obstructed or obscured by smoke.
- Doors should be marked (e.g. with no exit, no way out or what the room is used for, such as plant room) if they could be confused with an emergency exit door.
- All fire doors should be marked with a fire safety sign, e.g. ‘Fire door keep shut’. The type required will depend on the type of fire doors.
- Fire extinguishers have specific signs for each type.
- The correct signs must be used for the corresponding fire extinguisher and placed next to each one on the premises. It gives the user vital information in a fire, as using the incorrect extinguisher can have serious consequences.
- If firefighting equipment is not directly visible, appropriate directional arrows with the relevant firefighting equipment sign should be used to indicate its location. However, it must not contradict the escape route direction.
Are there different types of fire safety signs?
Yes, fire safety signs can be divided into different categories, which have different colours, for example:
- These are prohibition signs, i.e. something must NOT be done.
- They are round-shaped with a black pictogram on a white background, red edging and diagonal lines.
- Examples of prohibition signs include:
– No smoking.
– No fire exit.
– Do not use the lifts.
– No naked flames.
- These are mandatory signs, i.e. actions to carry out and what must be done.
- They are round-shaped with a white pictogram on a blue background.
- Examples of mandatory signs include:
– Fire exit doors – Fire door keep shut; fire door keep clear; automatic fire door keep clear.
– Fire escape – Fire escape keep clear.
- These are warning signs that warn people that there is a fire hazard or danger.
- They are triangular-shaped with a black pictogram on a yellow background with black edging.
- Examples of warning signs include:
– Warning flammable liquid.
– Danger highly flammable.
- These are emergency escape signs that give information on emergency doors, exits and escape routes.
- There are also safe condition signs, e.g. refuge points, rescue and first aid.
- They are rectangular or square-shaped with a white pictogram on a green background.
- Examples of emergency signs include:
– Fire assembly point – Your fire assembly point is…; fire assembly point; refuge point.
– Fire exit – Fire emergency exit signs for safe exit routes, BS 5499 will apply. It is vital that ‘this way’ arrows for fire equipment location signs (i.e. red background direction arrows) are not in contradiction with the escape direction.
Other types of fire safety signs
In addition to the above, there are also the following types of fire safety signs:
Fire equipment signs:
- Gives information on fire protection arrangements.
- They are square or rectangular-shaped and are RED with white symbols/text.
- Examples of fire equipment signs include:
– Firefighting equipment – Fire hose reel; dry riser; fire blanket; fire extinguisher.
– Other fire equipment – Fire alarm call point; fire telephone.
- These signs should be displayed at the location of every piece of fire equipment.
Multiple message signs:
- Signs and fire symbols are sometimes combined on a single notice to provide additional messages.
- Examples of multiple message signs include:
– Fire exit, keep clear.
– In case of fire, do not use the lift, use the stairs.
– Refuge point, keep clear.
Fire action notices:
- These notices tell people what actions to take in the event of a fire, e.g. what to do if they discover a fire, on hearing the fire alarm, where the assembly point is and what not to do.
- They contain mandatory, prohibition and emergency symbols.
- They usually have spaces to fill in specific details, e.g. location of the assembly point, a number to call in an emergency and the nearest escape route.
- Fire action notices will fulfil the RRFSO requirement to provide comprehensive and relevant information for preventive and protective measures.
- These signs should be on all commercial premises.
Which type of fire safety signs are required?
The responsible person is not required to have every fire safety sign. Too many can be overwhelming for some people, especially in an emergency, and vital information can be lost. The fire safety signs must be specific to the premises, activities, occupants and fire risks.
Firstly, the responsible person must ensure they have fire safety signs required by law, e.g. fire action notices, firefighting equipment and emergency routes and exits. Other fire safety signs will depend on the fire risk assessment findings, a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
The responsible person must use their fire risk assessment to identify the precautions to prevent fires and the protective measures to reduce and control fire risks. Fire safety signs will come under fire protective measures. The responsible person must identify the safety signs needed around the premises and where to site them.
Further information on fire risk assessments can be found in the UK Government’s guide to making your premises safe from fire. Their assessment guides for specific industries and premises also provide further guidelines on fire risk assessments and signs and notices.
Fires can happen so quickly and can spread at an alarming rate. They can have devastating consequences for businesses and individuals. They can threaten lives, cause severe and life-changing injuries and result in significant financial losses. Therefore, it is vital to prevent fires where possible. Fire safety signs can warn people about fire safety hazards and how to avoid them.
Fire safety signs also provide essential information on what to do and what not to do if a fire occurs. By providing clear and concise instructions, signs can help people escape a burning building as quickly as possible. They can also help in emergency response and mitigation, preventing the fire from causing extensive damage.
The responsible person must ensure they provide the correct fire safety signs for their premises type, the occupants and the risks. There is various guidance available from the HSE and GOV.UK and they can contact their enforcing authority, e.g. the local Fire and Rescue Service, for advice.
Why not take our RoSPA-approved Fire Safety Awareness Course to learn more about compliance with fire safety laws and preventing and controlling the risks?