Smoke control requirements in educational buildings

While smoke control is vital in any type of public building where people gather, it is perhaps even more so in schools and other buildings the more vulnerable members of society assemble. In this blog, we will cover the regulations around smoke control requirements in educational buildings and share some design considerations that are vital when configuring fire safety systems for buildings with children as the main users.

Legal requirements for designing fire safety into schools

The Building Bulletin 100 (BB 100) which focuses on design for fire safety in schools states that:

“Since April 2001, all new building work in schools is subject to approval under the Building Regulations.

The functional requirements B1 to B5 of Schedule 1 of the Building Regulations are as follows:

B1: To ensure satisfactory provision of means of giving an alarm of fire and a satisfactory standard of means of escape for persons in the event of fire in a building.

B2: To ensure fire spread over the internal linings of buildings is inhibited.

B3: To ensure the stability of buildings in the event of fire; to ensure that there is a sufficient degree of fire separation within buildings and between adjoining buildings; to provide automatic fire suppression where necessary; and to inhibit the unseen spread of fire and smoke in concealed spaces in buildings.

B4: To ensure external walls and roofs have adequate resistance to the spread of fire over the external envelope and that spread of fire from one building to another is restricted.

B5: To ensure satisfactory access for fire appliances to buildings and the provision of facilities in buildings to assist fire-fighters in the saving of life of people in and around buildings.

Any building work which is subject to the requirements imposed by Schedule 1 of the Building Regulations should, in accordance with Regulation 7, be carried out with proper materials and in a workmanlike manner. Further guidance can be found in the Approved Document supporting Regulation 7 on materials and workmanship. Regulation 16B requires that where building work is carried out which affects fire safety, and where the building affected will be covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) (RRO) Order 2005, the person carrying out the work must provide sufficient information for persons to operate and maintain the building in reasonable safety.”

Why effective smoke control is vital in educational buildings

As we have mentioned previously, smoke control is so important in any multi-occupancy building because smoke is, (statistically), more dangerous than fire - it is listed as the leading cause of death where fires in buildings are concerned. As a fire spreads, smoke is often the very first harmful element that reaches and affects occupants, as they inhale hot smoke and toxic fumes that burn and damage the lungs. This, in turn, starts a terrible self-perpetuating cycle where individuals breathe faster and heavier in an effort to get an ever-decreasing supply of oxygen into their lungs. Sadly, these natural, instinct-driven gasps more often than not, only speed up the intake of toxic gases and hot smoke.

Well-designed and installed smoke control systems will protect escape routes and help guide smoke out of the building to stop visibility and air quality becoming so bad that the building users become trapped and unresponsive. They offer the occupants the vital time and means of escape to get out of the building safely.

Design considerations for smoke control in educational buildings

Building safety legislation is usually created with adults in mind. However, when it comes to fire safety in educational buildings, designers need to consider some additional key points:

  1. Most children will be much shorter than adults and therefore affected by the smoke much more quickly as it rises to the top of the building. Systems need to be designed with both children and adults in mind.
  2. In addition, younger children naturally tend to breathe more rapidly than adults and will, when in distress, be more prone to panicking. This reduces the amount of time they have to get out of the burning building safely.
  3. The occupants at schools will undoubtedly have different rates of mobility due to age or any physical impairment, again potentially reducing the amount of time a user will have to escape.

It is important, therefore, that the escape routes must be protected against smoke penetration and the storey or final exit must be reached before they become untenable. Once visibility has dropped below 10m it will be difficult to move safely to the exits. The time taken will also need to take account of such things as the furniture present and the size of exits and the age and mobility of the occupants. Thus, all the right measures must be in place to allow safe egress from any part of the building.

Our experience has shown that smoke control is most often introduced into educational buildings usually occurs in the following instances:

  1. There’s a fire fighting shaft that needs protecting (usually in taller buildings)
  2. An atrium has been incorporated into the building that might compromise a normally compliant fire strategy (refer to our blog on atria buildings
  3. There is a residential requirement for the building
  4. There is a relaxation of compartmentation to allow a more open plan design and fire curtains need to be deployed – refer to our fire curtain blog

As is proved by the points above, fire safety in schools requires some extra thought and is a field where an experienced designer can truly help improve the effectiveness of the systems. Colt is the UK’s most experienced smoke control designer, manufacturer and installer.