Means of escape

PCCs must ensure that there are adequate means of escape available to people whenever there is an event being held in the church

This is particularly important for services or events where the church is full to capacity - particularly Christmas services if high capacity is combined with large numbers of lit candles.  PCCs should carry out a risk assessment - details on the health & safety web page.  Many issues can be addressed quickly and cheaply as set out below.

Maximum occupancy:

  • There must be a recognised maximum occupancy level for your church which takes into account how many people could reasonably escape quickly from your particular building in the event of a fire.  Guidance is available from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service on calculating occupancy levels in buildings of assembly.

Communicate:

  • Announce location of emergency exits at the start of any event
  • Have church members on duty who are trained and educated to act in an emergency.  You need to run periodic safety drills and have clear procedures in place.
  • Remind church members to keep passageways free from clutter at all times
  • Have suitable arrangements in place for people with mobility impairments
  • There must be appropriate alarm arrangements for people in remote parts of the church such as bell ringing chambers.  Subject to your own risk assessment, this could be addressed by having a nominated individual on duty or an alarm system (bearing in mind bell ringers may need a visual alarm system)

Emergency exits:

  • Must be clearly identified with open access routes
  • Exit doors must be able to be opened quickly and easily:
    • This may require you to change existing locks to an emergency release type of lock such as a thumb-turn lock.
    • Any inward-opening emergency exit doors will restict the number of people who can get out quickly.  You should have nominees or hooks to hold them open.  There should be emergency lighting towards exits.

Emergency lighting:

  • Particularly important if some or all exits are down stairs or corridors. 
  • All emergency lighting must be maintained in accordance with the appropriate standard.  BS5266 Part 8 specifies that the recommended period between successive inspection and servicing visits for emergency lighting should not exceed 12 months and that user testing should be carried out monthly.  It is good practice to record all tests in a logbook as evidence of the tests performed. 
  • Access to bell ringing chambers should have suitable emergency lighting in case of failure of the local sub circuit for the normal lighting system. Subject to your individual risk assessment, this could involve replacing some of the existing bulkhead lights on the tower steps with a combined normal/emergency light.  Alternatively, torches could be used, in which case there should be one torch per ringer.
  • Any torches they must be hung prominently on a wall and the batteries regularly tested.