Practical fire safety guidance for existing non-residential premises

Guidance note on fire safety responsibilities for business owners of non-residential premises.

Chapter 3: The Persons In The Premises

66. The number, nature and location of the occupants needs to be considered. This will influence the fire safety measures necessary. In some cases, the risk to persons will be influenced by their particular circumstances and by their location in, and familiarity with, the premises. Premises-based employees and other persons who regularly frequent premises may be expected to have some familiarity with layouts and procedures, while visitors and members of the public may be unfamiliar. In public access buildings many of the public may only know building entrances and be unfamiliar with alternative escape routes.

67. Numbers of persons can be anticipated from the size of the premises and knowledge of occupancy levels. A guide to potential capacity of a room or space is to divide the area by an occupancy load factor. For example a room of 50 m 2 with a load factor of 5 gives an occupancy of 10 persons.

Table 4 - Occupancy load factor of a room or space by use

Description of room or space Load factor
standing spectator area 0.3
assembly area, bar, open air standing spectator area 0.5
queuing area, concourse 0.7
conference room, lounge, staff room, waiting room, dining room, meeting room, restaurant 1
shop sales area - high occupancy e.g. supermarket 2
factory production area, museum 5
office 6
shop sales area - low density e.g. furniture shop library, kitchen 7
storage, warehouse, enclosed car park 30

68. In a shopping centre, a load factor of 0.7 may be used for mall areas up to a width of 6 m and a load factor of 2 for areas beyond the 6 m. Footfall data may provide a more accurate measure of actual occupancy.

69. Occupancy capacity is not used for determining capacity limits because it takes no account of means of escape or other fire safety measures. For example, exit capacity needs to be compared to occupancy capacity. The number of persons who can safely use rooms, areas or storeys may be more or be less than calculated because of the means of escape provided, or other fire safety measures in place.

70. Some persons who have a disability may have difficulty in perceiving or responding to a fire or in leaving the premises if there is a fire. In considering staff and frequent visitors, any disability and associated difficulty should be identified. The personal evacuation needs of staff should be considered and be discussed with each individual along with the assistance required. An individual personal emergency egress plan ( PEEP) for each of these persons should be established. Information and guidance on the evacuation of disabled persons in the event of fire is available in Practical Fire Safety Guidance: The Evacuation of Disabled Persons from Buildings.

71. In some premises, such as a crèche, multiscreen cinema or summer play scheme, where children are separated from adults, following activation of the fire alarm system, adults may attempt to contact the children inside the building rather than evacuate the premises separately. Account needs to be taken of this.

72. The age and ability of children, pupils and students should be considered. Account should be taken of the vulnerability and supervision needs of children and of the lack of awareness and immaturity of young persons including any young persons employed.

73. Consideration should be given to employees and others who may work alone such as cleaners and security staff and anyone who may be in isolated areas, such as maintenance staff and staff who have control of critical processes which cannot be left unattended.

74. In entertainment premises, the age range and behaviour profile of different types of audience should be taken into account. Events attended by children or young persons may require a greater degree of control and stewarding than other events which, despite similar audience numbers, may have a different behaviour profile.

Transport Premises

75. Passengers using transport terminals on an occasional basis may have less familiarity than people who are using the same facility daily, but in any case persons may be familiar only with routes they normally use.

76. Delays and special events may greatly increase passenger numbers and more generally, passenger disembarkation during a fire is a factor to consider. For some premises, an elevated risk to life safety may occur at peak times when a high volume of people are passing through the premises and account should also be taken of the psychological stress and behaviour of passengers that may be associated with congestion or perceived evacuation delay.

77. The behaviour of passengers in the event of fire may offer difficulty and they may be reluctant to obey instructions or evacuate. Examples are:

  • people may be reluctant to evacuate without their luggage;
  • people may be in a state of undress such as in changing rooms;
  • people may decide their first priority is to try and re-join children and/or friends; and
  • people in queues may be concerned at losing their place in the queue.

78. Where large numbers of people use transport premises, there may be a need to monitor the number of people entering the premises to prevent capacity being exceeded and avoid overcrowding.


Email: Fire and Rescue Unit:

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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