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January 11, 2017

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Smoke and heat exhaust ventilation: the difference between life and death

Will Goodenough, Key Account Manager at Whitesales, explores the massive impact smoke and heat exhaust ventilation can have in the event of an emergency.

In the unlikely event of a fire in a workplace, the building’s occupants are well-versed in fire safety and the evacuation process, and should have little concern about navigating themselves out of a building safely. But one variable that no fire drill can plan effectively for is the most lethal – the toxic smoke and fumes produced by the fire. Around 53% of fire-related fatalities are caused by inhalation of toxic gas, rather than burns injuries, which illustrates just how grave a danger fumes are in a fire situation. 263 fire-related fatalities took place in the UK between 2014 and 2015, meaning that as many as 139 people could still be alive today, had the building been fitted with life-saving natural smoke and heat exhaust ventilation.

Safe evacuation of a burning building requires more than just fire escape doors and emergency service assistance. Smoke ventilation can be the difference. By rerouting smoke, heat and toxic fumes via roof vents, visibility and air quality is improved for evacuees and rescuers, spread of fire is decelerated, and everybody has more time to escape the building safely. Automatic smoke ventilation, upon the detection of smoke, provides the added assurance of only having to worry about personal safety in a fire situation. The prevalence of smoke ventilation in modern architecture is being regarded as a step in right direction, but the reliability of ventilation systems very much depends on compliant manufacture and installation, which is strictly monitored by governmental regulation.


The BS EN12101-2 certification is a detailed guide to the manufacture and installation of natural heat and smoke exhaust ventilation, strict rules by which both ventilation experts and their customers are bound. The rules are vehemently enforced in order to guarantee that each individual ventilation system that is constructed is of the best quality and is fit for purpose. Rules apply to the manufacture, testing, tracking and installation of natural heat and smoke ventilation, but depending on the environment for which systems are intended, different parts of the regulation apply. This is why it is imperative to seek the guidance of reliable industry professionals – preferably those recommended to you by other satisfied clients – who will run through your requirements in detail and make absolutely certain that all legally enforceable rules have been complied with. Industrial and legal consequences of non-compliance can be catastrophic enough, without avoidable injuries and/or deaths weighing on the conscience.

In order to be certain of ventilation quality, a strict and unyielding testing regime is applied to all ventilation systems, which seeks to determine the safety and performance of six primary functions under various conditions: Annexure B determines Aerodynamic Free Area; Annexure C applies a total of 11000 cycles to determine reliability; Annexure D ensures that vents can open fully within a 60-second period under snow load; Annexure E tests performance under low ambient temperature; Annexure F checks integrity under wind load; Annexure G tests heat resistance of 300°C for 30 minutes. On top of these, all ventilators must be tested for Fire Class in order to adhere to EN13501-1.

Additional precautions are put in place to guarantee quality and reliability of ventilation systems. Conditions of intended ventilation placement are replicated during testing to ensure suitability for purpose. This takes into account variables such as weather and temperature, angles and ceiling heights. Once the full test routine has been carried out, each individual ventilator is certified and given a CE compliance label, enabling them to be tracked from manufacture to installation, with the knowledge that what passed certification is what is being installed, and nothing has been altered.


Once natural smoke and heat exhaust ventilation units have been installed, the supplier of the units and the customer have a joint legal responsibility to ensure that all equipment has been manufactured and fitted properly, suitable for purpose, and compliant with EN12101-2. Bearing in mind that some rules are only applicable to certain environments, legal responsibilities can cause confusion at times, which is why it is so critical to seek out the assistance of qualified professionals whose advice you can trust. The uncompromising nature of the regulation, and the way they deal with non-compliers, makes adherence all the more essential.

Here are a few basic key points for BS EN12101-2 compliance to bear in mind:

  • Smoke Vent openings must project a minimum of 300mm above the roof surface
  • Single Leaf Smoke Vents must open to at least 140°
  • Aerodynamic Area (Aa) must be provided for ventilation units
  • Every individual vent must have a CE compliance label applied
  • A Declaration of Performance must be made available for each individual vent
  • All Smoke Vents must be supplied with full installation instructions

The installation of natural smoke and heat exhaust ventilation can be the difference between someone getting out of a building alive. This is a very important measure. But in order for these benefits to be realised, BS EN12101-2 compliance must be considered a top priority.


Will Goodenough  is a Key Account Manager at Whitesales. Will works with his team to provide roof glazing solutions to enhance internal environments through the use of natural light. This involves working with specifiers, contractors and merchants providing condition reports, site surveys, detailed design solutions, budget costs and ultimately delivery to site, including installation where necessary. Whitesales team are committed to working closely with their clients to understand their needs in order to deliver tailored design and cost solutions. You can find Whitesales website here:

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