Fire safety: Responsibility for evacuating people with impaired mobility
03 November 2009
Clients appear increasingly confused by conflicting advice they have received about this from fire safety consultants.
As commercial organisations are responsible for their own fire risk assessment and suitable control and evacuation measures, mistakes could have tragic consequences.
The responsibility falls to the ‘responsible person or persons’ who are, broadly speaking, the occupier or owner of the premises, or both.
A means of escape provided must be suitable for the evacuation of everyone likely to be in the premises. This may require additional planning and allocation of staff roles – with appropriate training. Provisions for the emergency evacuation of disabled persons may include: refuges, stairways, evacuation lifts, fire-fighting lifts, horizontal evacuation, and ramps.
The responsible person must ensure that all people can make a full evacuation. (Note: when in shared buildings, the emergency plan must be completely aligned with the building management plan).
The evacuation plan must have arrangements for the full evacuation of people, and not rely on the assistance of the fire and rescue service.
Where there are employees or regular visitors with disabilities who may need assistance in the event of an evacuation, the responsible person should prepare individual Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs), tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual and an essential communication tool for those required to provide assistance. PEEP can be referenced in the main fire emergency plan.
Refuges are permitted as part of the overall evacuation plan. They should be used where people’s abilities or impairments might result in delayed evacuation. Refuges are considered to be a place of relative safety that can be used as a temporary location prior to a fully assisted evacuation to a place of total safety.
Example: A refuge would be where a mobility impaired person was on an upper floor of a building. They would move to the refuge (likely to be in or adjacent to a protected staircase).
Disabled people should not be left alone in a refuge area whilst awaiting assistance with evacuation from the building.
Plans should allow for trained people who would move the person using an evacuation chair or the careful carrying of disabled people down stairs without their wheelchairs, should the wheelchair be too large or heavy. This would need to take into account health and safety manual handling procedures in addition to the dignity and confidence of the disabled person.
Where refuges are provided, they should be enclosed in a fire-resisting structure which creates a protected escape route leading directly to a place of total safety and should only be used in conjunction with effective management rescue arrangements. (Refuges are to be designed to the relevant criteria currently set out in BS 9999).
A lift used to evacuate disabled people should be either a designated evacuation lift or a fire-fighting lift, which, unlike a normal passenger lift, is designed to operate (so long as is practicable) when there is a fire in the building.
The main purpose of a fire-fighting lift is to transport fire-fighters and their equipment to the floor of their choice.
Fire-fighting lifts can be used to evacuate disabled people from a building as long as this process does not impede the progress of the fire brigade or put the fire brigade or any occupants (including disabled people trying to evacuate) at any increased risk of harm. The general rule is that fire-fighting lifts (unlike a designated evacuation lift) should only be used to evacuate disabled persons prior to the arrival of the fire brigade.
In all instances, the use of a fire-fighting lift for evacuations should be agreed with the local fire safety officer who will be able to confirm the local fire authority’s views.
If these lifts are to be used, contingency plans must be in place in case the lift is not operational or access is blocked in the event of fire.
Enough escape routes should always be available for use by disabled people. This does not mean that every exit will need to be adapted. Staff should be aware of routes suitable for disabled people so they can direct and help people accordingly.
Stairways used for the emergency evacuation of disabled people should comply with the requirements for internal stairs in the building regulations. Specialist evacuation chairs or other equipment may be necessary to negotiate stairs.
Where ramps are necessary for the emergency evacuation of people in wheelchairs they should be as gentle as possible.
Stairlifts should not be used for emergency evacuation. Where installed in a stairway used for emergency evacuation, no parts of the lift, such as its carriage rail, should be allowed to reduce the effective width of the stairway or any other part of an emergency evacuation route.
A joint responsibility
In rented properties, both landlords and tenants have responsibilities under legislation and should work together to achieve the most proactive solution. Landlords will often be responsible for the common parts of a building, including evacuation points.
Article posted by Alan Jones on Linex website