By Olivia Post

Manchester fire brigade- a timber floor balcony caught fire from a disposable bbq

Manchester fire brigade- a timber floor balcony caught fire from a disposable bbq

Everyone knows that keeping escape routes clear is essential, but achieving this can often be problematic. Residents like to personalise their homes, and well-kept homes can reduce anti-social behaviour, so encouraging residents to care for their homes is positive. However, how do you prevent a few hanging baskets from turning into a jungle and a hazard? Plants aren’t the only issue; pushchairs, bins, bikes, and, of course, mobility scooters are commonly found along external and internal escape routes.

Building managers often use one of two approaches. The first is commonly described as a “zero tolerance” approach. This method prohibits anything within communal areas and can often include doormats.

Pros of this approach:

  • It’s simple to manage; remove everything.

  • Escape routes are kept clear, enabling everyone to exit quickly if required.

  • The risk of fire starting or spreading in these areas is significantly reduced.


  • Hugely unpopular with residents.

Although there is only one con, do not underestimate the consequences of unhappy residents; they are unlikely to respond positively to anything else you need or want to do. They will care less about their environment. Who wants to be the person who makes everyone unhappy?

An alternative approach is a “managed approach.”

This approach permits residents to store a few items outside their premises. This can include doormats, pot plants, window boxes, etc.

Pros of this approach:

  • Residents are happier.
  • It encourages regular engagement with residents, which is a requirement under new legislation.
  • It can help build better relationships between residents and building managers/housing providers.
  • The building will look more attractive.
  • Residents take pride in their surroundings, significantly reducing anti-social behaviour.


  • It can be harder to manage.
  • Items can increase and become untenable.
  • It’s more time-consuming.
  • “One size doesn’t fit all.”

Ultimately, keeping escape routes clear is a legal requirement and an essential part of managing building safety. Your approach is likely to differ between different sites. Here are a couple of golden rules:

  • Reducing items stored along escape routes can reduce the risk of things falling over and blocking the route or causing people to trip and fall.

  • Removing combustible items reduces the risk of fires starting.

  • Never charge electrical items along an escape route; this creates an additional risk of a battery fire.

  • Don’t have a BBQ along your escape route or on your balcony. Fires have been caused by falling hot ash or embers.