Fire Stairs Need Accessible Features Too! But Why?

Old fire stair looking down the centre of the stair to the bottom.

This might come as a surprise, but fire exit stairs in Australia need some level of accessibility provided, even when they are just used as an exit path between levels of a building during an emergency.

This helps people move through a stairway to an exit and a safe place outside the building. Having a suitable handrail to hold is important for many people, including those older occupants, people with some level of mobility limitations, or those who need support during what could be a stressful event.

The ability to identify the edges of stair treads also aids people with low vision and provides great benefit for everyone. Ultimately, a high contrast to the treads edges will help to reduce slips, trips and falls in the stairs, the last thing one wants during an emergency evacuation.

Back in May 2011, with the introduction of the Premises Standards and changes to the Building Code of Australia, we saw the first of the accessible features introduced into fire-isolated stairs.

Fire exit stairs have a specific purpose when only used for emergency egress, therefore, they do not need to comply with all aspects of the stair provisions of AS 1428.1 (2009). But there are some relevant requirements that help provide a more inclusive, usable, and safer stair during an emergency evacuation of a building.

BCA/Premises Standards Access Code Clause D3.3(a)(iii) introduced in May 2011 states “for a fire-isolated stairway, clause 11.1(f) and (g) of AS 1428.1”. This means a fire-isolated exit stair (but not a non-fire-isolated exit stair…) must have compliant stair tread nosing strips, in a compliant profile, and with a minimum of 30% luminance contrast.

Yellow stair tread nosing strips on brown coloured concrete, view looking down on treads

BCA Clause D2.17(a)(vi) was added in May 2013, which states “(vi) in a required exit serving an area required to be accessible, designed and constructed to comply with clause 12 of AS 1428.1”

What does this mean, well, the BCA now requires at least one handrail in each flight of an exit stair, whether it is an fire-isolated stair or not, to have a handrail profile that complies with AS 1428.1 (2009) profile. An example is shown below.

Modern fire stairs, view down from landing of handrail

BCA Clause D2.13(a)(v), Clause D2.14(a)(ii) and Table D2.14  were added in May 2014 prescribing minimum slip-resistance classifications for stairs and landings.

However, notwithstanding the minimum requirements for accessible features in a fire-isolated stair or an exit stair discussed above, there is nothing wrong with a developer or designer going above the minimum requirements and introducing some of the other aspects of AS 1428.1 (2009) or other best-practice references, to a fire-isolated stair or an exit stair.

The most obvious benefits would be:

  • A handrail in an accessible profile on each side of the stairs;
  • A wider width beyond 1000mm, allowing for the movement of slower and faster people, and the contraflow of emergency services personnel; and
  • Larger landings on each occupied level of the building, that have been designed as refuge areas for people who have difficulty using stairs, those who might need to rest, or those occupants who have a mobility disability and need assistance to evacuate the building.

You can also read more about how to make buildings safer in an emergency here

Luminance Contrast of Doorways: Do you See it? You Should

Old red door in a white washed brick wall

Doors need to be visible for two main reasons:

  1. So we can find them; and
  2. So we can safely move through them.

The Building Code of Australia (part of the National Construction Code) and the Premises Standards (under the DDA), both require compliance of doors under the general provisions of Table D3.1 (i.e. “to and within all areas”) and at entrances under Clause D3.2.

AS 1428.1 (2009) outlines two specific requirements for luminance contrast of doors. Luminance contrast is defined as “the light reflected from one surface or component, compared to the light reflected from another surface or component.”

Fully glazed doors need a visual indicator glazing band across the door so it is more visible to people, particularly those with some level of vision loss, which is why the band must be solid and 75mm wide as per below:

6.6 Visual indicators on glazing

Where there is no chair rail, handrail or transom, all frameless or fully glazed doors, sidelights, including any glazing capable of being mistaken for a doorway or opening, shall be clearly marked for their full width with a solid and non-transparent contrasting line.

The contrasting line shall be not less than 75 mm wide and shall extend across the full width of the glazing panel. The lower edge of the contrasting line shall be located between 900 mm and 1000 mm above the plane of the finished floor level.

Any contrasting line on the glazing shall provide a minimum of 30% luminance contrast when viewed against the floor surface or surfaces within 2 m of the glazing on the opposite side.

Also, there must be a 50mm band around each door, as per below (noting, that only one of the listed options is required – not all of them):

13 DOORWAYS, DOORS AND CIRCULATION SPACE AT DOORWAYS
13.1 Luminance contrast

All doorways shall have a minimum luminance contrast of 30% provided between—
(a) door leaf and door jamb;
(b) door leaf and adjacent wall;
(c) architrave and wall;
(d) door leaf and architrave; or
(e) door jamb and adjacent wall.
The minimum width of the area of luminance contrast shall be 50 mm.

Additional areas where a higher luminance contrast of door features would be very beneficial include:

  • Door handles
  • The vertical leading edge of glass doors
  • A lower level visual indicator glazing band for shorter people and children

For more information, Access Central has published a specialised website just for luminance contrast – www.luminancecontrast.net.au