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Emergency evacuation measures 'risking lives' of disabled workforce

30 March 2023

ENTITLED ‘RISKY Business’, the latest White Paper issued by Evac+Chair International notes that 25% of circa 500 UK SME business decision-makers don’t know how many disabled and mobility impaired individuals there are within their organisation.

Further, almost one-third (29%, in fact) of those decision-makers have only “some” or “very little” understanding of their responsibilities to those individuals, with one-in-ten either not prepared – or otherwise unsure if they’re adequately prepared – to safely evacuate such employees needing assistance during an emergency scenario.

An overwhelming 82% of organisations are now calling on the Government to provide more clarity on their responsibilities surrounding fire safety, while more than two-thirds (ie 67%) take the view that evacuation equipment should be a legal requirement.

Gerard Wallace, managing director of Evac+Chair International commented, “There are more than 4.8 million disabled people in UK workplaces. What’s more, that figure is rising. Those responsible for the safety of these individuals are falling short, with a clear lack of knowledge, understanding and investment only serving to amplify the risk in emergency situations.”

Wallace continued: “Despite recent tragedies highlighting precisely how important it is to be prepared to safely evacuate everyone from multi-storey buildings, our study findings show that the subject of safe evacuation for all clearly needs to move higher up the agenda. Our report makes the case to the Government for better education and a firmer legal landscape.”

Legal challenge

Last year, disabled campaigners launched a legal challenge against the Government for failing to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s call for evacuation plans for disabled people in high-rise buildings. The decision on that challenge is expected imminently.

Staggeringly, more than two-thirds (ie 67%) of decision-makers believe there’s a culture of non-compliance or exploitation of loopholes in the business community when it comes to evacuation measures.

More than one quarter (27%) of respondents to Evac+Chair International’s study do not have someone solely responsible for evacuations, while one-in-five (19%) do not take temporary mobility challenges – such as pregnancy or a broken leg – into consideration as part of their safety plans.

On regulation, 68% of those individuals surveyed by Evac+Chair International believe that fire safety legislation does not do enough to protect those with access needs, while the cost of equipment and a lack of information were cited as the biggest challenges for business leaders in terms of developing suitable emergency evacuation procedures.

Daily danger

Sarah Rennie, accessibility consultant and fire safety campaigner for Claddag, which represents disabled and older people impacted by the #BuildingSafetyCrisis following the Grenfell Tower disaster, explained: “The disabled community, which makes up one-in-five of the working age population, is placed in danger every day because of building design and management practices. The majority of us become disabled in some way during our lifetime so it’s important to expect colleagues to need support next week which they might not need today.”

Rennie added: “Any day of the week, companies should expect a disabled visitor, supplier or client to enter the building. Businesses must have practices in place to plan for known-unknown scenarios like this. The disabled residents who died in Grenfell Tower hadn’t been privy to any effective plans for escape or aids to assist them in doing so. If we do not change our practices, then we have to take personal and organisational accountability for future preventable deaths and life-changing injuries. In workplaces, we need to ask ourselves what our practices say about how we value the lives of our disabled colleagues, visitors and friends alike.”

Gerard Wallace noted: “Current legislation is not fit for purpose, offering little clarity to businesses and those responsible for multi-storey buildings. This ambiguity, and the fact that the provision of appropriate equipment is not a legal requirement, is clearly enabling a ‘slippery shoulders’ culture within businesses.”

Wallace concluded: “Businesses are calling for more guidance and urging policy-makers to make the law work harder for those facing access barriers. It’s time to close the legislative gap.”

The Evac+Chair International survey covered legislation, awareness, preparedness and the challenges facing companies when navigating their responsibilities around the safety of members of the disabled community. 

Download the White Paper entitled ‘Risky Business’ online at www.evacchair.co.uk/white-paper-risky-business-download/