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The new office we moved into on the weekend, is what I would consider a "Death trap." To get in or out of the building you need a magnetic (RFID?) fob. The "emergency exit" button does not work, and you cannot leave the gated car-park without a fob.

Security works from 8:30 to 5:30 and we work til 7 pm, so if anyone is working late without a fob they cannot leave the office. Not all employees are given fobs, however.

My boss already knows this, but I will not stay in this office if I cannot leave safely. Does anyone know any legal precedent I can reference to have my boss address this issue more quickly? This office is in England.

Extra: there are 2 emergency exits I know of: One near the front door of the building, and one near where my office is. The one near my office is locked with a padlock and no one in the office owns a key. The other requires a fob.

  • 1
    "not all staff are given fobs" -- Do you have a fob? – Keith Thompson May 8 '15 at 17:43
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    Perhaps a related question: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/33605/… (hopefully this is not a huge trend today!) – Pavel May 9 '15 at 12:35
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    Padlocked emergency exit? Do you work at the Triangle Waist Company? – Compro01 May 9 '15 at 23:16
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    @Reirab: UK rules about emergency exits also require them to be openable from inside without tools/keys 24/7 (and to have routes to them illuminated in emergencies etc etc) – RedGrittyBrick May 10 '15 at 0:04
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    It sounds really strange to me that Security is not present during at least all of the hours that employees are there. What exactly are they securing against? Why do they trust employees when Security is not there, and if they do, why do they need Security people at all? They are gone when the building is empty, and gone when people are in it. Pointless? Contradictory? – user37746 Jun 30 '16 at 3:18
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The rulebook is Fire safety risk assessment: Offices and shops (Fire Safety Employers Guide), ISBN 978-1851128150.

It says (emphasis mine):

Daily checks
Remove bolts, padlocks and security devices from fire exits

(p.29)

Final exit doors should be quickly and easily openable without a key or code in the event of a fire.

(p.84)

Any device that impedes people making good their escape, either by being unnecessarily complicated to manipulate or not being readily openable, will not be acceptable.

Guidance on fire exits starts from the position that doors on escape routes should not be fitted with any locking devices (electrically operated or otherwise). However, it is accepted that in many cases the need for security will require some form of device that prevents unlimited access, but still enables the occupants of a building or area to open the door easily if there is a fire. These devices can take many forms but, in the majority of cases, premises where there are members of the public present or others who are not familiar with the building should use panic exit bar devices (i.e. push bars or touch bars). See BS EN 112543 for further information.

Premises that have limited numbers of staff or others who are familiar with the building and where panic is not likely may use alternative devices (i.e. push pads or lever handles). See BS EN 17944 for further information. In some larger premises, when only staff are on the premises and there is a security issue, it may be acceptable to restrict the number of emergency exits immediately available, e.g. when only security staff are present at night, or prior to opening the premises in the morning. Staff should be made fully aware of any restrictions and the number of exits not immediately available should be limited.

(p.123)

Electromechanical locking devices are normally unacceptable on escape doors, unless they are fitted with a manual means of overriding the locking mechanism, such as a push bar, push pad or lever handle or they do not rely on a spring mechanism, fail-safe open and are not affected by pressure, in which case the criteria for electromagnetic devices should be applied.

(p.124)

Padlocking the fire exits is blatantly illegal and very unsafe; contact your local Fire Safety Regulation Team (example contact details for London), anonymously if necessary.

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From: "The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005", legislation.gov.uk

(f)emergency doors must not be so locked or fastened that they cannot be easily and immediately opened by any person who may require to use them in an emergency;

It does say at the top The following requirements must be complied with in respect of premises where necessary.

So it might be that it's legal to block these exits if the building doesn't require them. However if they are required and cannot be used it would appear the company could be in breach of this. According to the HSE you can contact your local environmental health office if you have concerns, they would hopefully be able to advise you more accurately than anyone on here.

For non-emergency situations, assuming your company won't supply everyone with a fob: I believe there was a question asked recently about a procedure to make sure people without fobs weren't locked in, it might be worth searching for that.

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    I think you're referring to workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/42539/… - while this case is trickier because the doors lock automatically, the same "hand your fob to someone" approach can work – Kate Gregory May 8 '15 at 13:11
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    Even if the building has enough exits without that one, if it's marked as an emergency exit, it must open. Otherwise it's a deathtrap for visitors who make for it and ... – Brian Drummond May 11 '15 at 8:39
43

Call the fire marshall in the town or city immediately. Buildings without exits are illegal and highly dangerous because people could be trapped in a fire.

The fire marshall will take care of the situation right away. If they don't, call the police.

Note ALL exits have to have an Emergency button allowing a person to exit the premises if the security system does not work for some reason.

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    This applies well in the United States. I think you will find many U.S. fire marshalls will fine the company and then require the company to fix it immediately. In some U.S., jurisdictions code enforcement is the appropriate office to call. However, are there likely to be repercussions? Will managers figure out you called and make life difficult for you? If appropriate, protect yourself by calling or emailing from a non work equipment, during off hours and mention your call to no one. – nickalh May 8 '15 at 17:52
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    It would be the Heath and Safety executive in the uk - or call the local fire brigade. – Pepone May 8 '15 at 21:34
  • If you are indeed trapped in the building, calling the firemen, the police or an emergency number (112 EU / 911 US) would be perfectly logical. They shouldn't be so stupid to attempt making your life difficult after kidnapping you (they locked you up, remember? you could threat with suing them). – Ángel May 10 '15 at 19:01
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    As the question states the office in England, the U.S. services are unlikely to pay much attention. However, there are similar inspections for the UK: firesafe.org.uk/what-to-expect-if-a-fire-safety-inspector-calls These inspections can be unannounced, which would be the better idea if there is a chance of doors getting unlocked following a notification just for the inspection. Many of the regional fire services in the UK have ways for you to report concerns about breaches in fire safety regulation such as wiltsfire.gov.uk/reportingafiresafetyconcern – TafT May 11 '15 at 8:12
16

If there is no way to leave the building without a fob, and there is no way to leave the car park without a fob then management has to consider a few options:

  • Change the hours of the office/staff - they may also have to adjust the starting time of some staff members so they don't arrive before security.
  • Purchase fobs for everybody that works outside the hours of the security staff.

If this is a new office, then management did a poor job evaluating the new environment; or they thought they could avoid the costs of the fobs.

It is not unusual for adjustments to be required after settling in at a new environment. Unless there is a way to pay for security to stay later, more fobs are they way to go.

One thing to point out is that without fobs employees working late can't reenter the office if they forget something or have to temporarily leave the office.

Offer to gather the list of employees that need fobs, the reason they need them, and price them out.

Lastly, the locking of emergency exits is a big fire inspection issue. The local government should force the building owner to make the changes necessary to remove the lock.

2

The other answer went to great length to provide detail on fire escape.

Another thing, in some jurisdiction it could be illegal to have you in a building without giving you the means to leave. Definitly check this with a lawyer before bringing it up. I'd be amazed if there's no precedents of employers locking in employees in you jurisdiction. Again, check with a lawyer or maybe union representative.

As for strategies, talk to collegues. Make sure if others share your view, if not find out why not and help them see why you are concerned. It may well be that more people than you are unhappy. The more managers are pestered by their underlings, the better.

Depending on your job security, you could snitch to the fire marshall or similiar authority, as others have suggested. I can't know in what trouble this might land you since I don't know the company. If you go this route, make sure to have ample documentation (pictures of emergency exit plans and the offending doors at least). You can try to snitch anonymously, for this to not fall at your feet be sure that your are not the only one complaining.

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