15 July 2021
A key element of any health and safety policy is to ensure that anyone with mobility issues can be safely evacuated from upper floors of buildings when lifts are out of action in an emergency. Gerard Wallace explains the legal backdrop and best practice.
ALL ORGANISATIONS need to be prepared for any emergency situation. Evacuating a multi-storey building requires planning and preparation to ensure everyone can be safely evacuated. Additional measures need to be implemented to accommodate those who have a temporary or permanent mobility-impairment, to ensure the risk level is reduced when evacuating a building.
What does the law say?
Outlined in the Regulatory Form Order for Fire Safety 2005, it is no longer the responsibility of the Fire Service to facilitate the evacuation of non-domestic premises. It is the designated ‘responsible person’ (the person having control of the building, or a degree of control; for example, landlords, business owners, employers, facilities managers or risk assessors) who must ensure that everyone can be evacuated quickly and safely in an emergency.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a duty of care to assess any risks that affect the health and safety of employees and put in place appropriate procedures to be followed ‘in the event of serious and imminent danger’. The responsible person must carry out a regular review of the risk of fire on the premises and identify any issues, following which a plan must be developed to mitigate these risks, this will include the planning for the evacuation of those with disabilities.
Put simply, it is not enough to ensure that your building is accessible – you also have to ensure it can be exited safely by all building occupants in an emergency.
Emergency evacuation for everyone
It is important to recognise that everyone has the right to a quick, safe means of escape. Changing demographics and social awareness of issues, such as disability, are bringing greater diversity into the modern workplace. To accommodate the changing demographics of employees and visitors, workplaces must ensure that they are accessible and adapt their health and safety policies and procedures, to keep everyone safe, and this includes providing a safe means of evacuation.
Increasingly, people with physical impairments are seeking employment opportunities, this is driven by the government encouraging employers to adopt a more inclusive recruitment strategy. There are nearly 6.5 million people of working age who have a disability, in the UK. In 2020, the UK employment rate among those with permanent disability and of working age was 31.2% i.e., 4.4 million.
Another area that is shifting the demographic of today’s workforce, is the increased age of the employee. According to Centre for Ageing Better, the employment gap between people over and under 50 years old has been steadily narrowing over the last 20 years. There are now 4 million more workers aged 50 and over, versus twenty years ago in the year 2000. In comparison there are 1.5 million more workers aged 25-49. A third of all workers are now aged 50 or over.
Many people want to continue working past their retirement age, some of the reasons are financially based and others are for mental health. Older employees are often praised for their reliability, experience and loyalty and for their ‘soft skills’ in areas such as customer services.
Whilst building designs have been adapted to incorporate ramp access, wider doorways for wheelchair access and passenger lifts, they don’t necessarily, however, consider how people can exit a building in an emergency.
Evacuate buildings safely
When installing assistive equipment, such as an Evac+Chair, it is vital that the requirements of the building and personnel are taken into consideration when selecting the most suitable product and location. Under the Equality Act 2010, a ‘disabled person’ is defined as someone with a physical or mental impairment which has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ effect on their ability to do normal daily activities such as descending stairs unaided.
Equally, there are some medical conditions that, whilst they do not qualify as disabilities, can impede mobility, for example pregnancy or sporting injury. With an older workforce, it is inevitable that some will suffer from medical conditions like osteoarthritis and arthritis that will affect their mobility. While these and other age-related conditions could impact on someone’s physical capabilities in terms of mobility, they certainly shouldn’t be considered a bar to employment on health and safety grounds.
Evacuating high rise buildings can present a number of challenges, including distance needed to travel down the stairs to exit the building. Developing an evacuation plan that considers all of these factors is crucial in delivering a successful evacuation, should the need arise.
The Evac+Chair has been independently proven to provide the safest, quickest means of escape for the mobility impaired. Other types of evacuation products are available, these include slide sheets, rescue mats, or stretchers. When developing an evacuation plan it is vital that the correct product(s) are chosen to ensure the safest and quickest means of evacuation are selected. All evacuation aids need to be in a designated refuge point which will be specified in the buildings’ evacuation strategy. Each fire exit must accommodate both the able-bodied and mobility-impaired, therefore all equipment has to be readily available and accessible in the refuge point.
An Evac+Chair offers a high quality and effective solution to ensure a safe evacuation for an increasingly diverse workforce. Whilst many assume that their office’s fire alarm is unlikely to ever go off – unless it is a fire drill - it is more likely than many people think. Therefore, it is essential that all organisations have the correct equipment and procedures in place to ensure that everyone can be evacuated.
Safe evacuation isn’t just the purchase of a chair. Evac+Chair, the UK’s leading evacuation chair manufacturer provides UK Nationwide coverage for customer support, training and maintenance, providing complete peace of mind. In addition,E vac+Chair offer FREE evacuation assessments and recommend that you have one of these prior to the purchase of an evacuation chair. This will ensure you select the correct product from their range, to meet the needs of your building and personnel. Their team of fully trained consultants, can also advise the best location to install your Evac+Chair, so you can be confident you are fully prepared should an emergency evacuation situation occur.
Gerard Wallace is managing director at Evac+Chair International. For more information, visit www.evacchair.co.uk
Home of England Rugby and the biggest dedicated rugby union venue in the World, Twickenham Stadium welcomes millions of visitors every year. The health and safety of both its visitors and employees is of utmost importance. This includes having procedures and products that can safely and quickly assist in the emergency evacuation of the mobility impaired, should the need arise.
Evac+Chair are proud to have been selected to supply evacuation chairs to the stadium. While our products are easy to use, we highly recommend key personal are trained to deploy and use the chair by our expert team.
Gary Stocks, head of venue operations at RFU, Twickenham Stadium; “Prior to lockdown, we had conferences and events happening seven days a week, with a large population of stewards on site daily. We regularly train our employees on evacuation plans and procedures, ensuring we have an adequate number of employees who can use the Evac+Chair. Twickenham Stadium recently welcomed a new head trainer, Victoria Savill, who is responsible for training key personnel in the deployment and use of the Evac+Chair. Twickenham Stadium signed up to the Evac+Chair Key Trainer Masterclass, training delegates to understand the fundamentals of operating the evacuation chair safely, but also allowing them to deliver training to other members of staff within their organisation”.
Victoria Savill, venue operations supervisor at Twickenham Stadium says, “Using the manufacturer as the training provider, rather than a third-party trainer, gave me the reassurance that I would be trained to use the chair in a correct and safe manner.
“Evac+Chair were able to deliver a COVID safe on-site training course. The trainer was highly informative and knowledgeable, his style put me at ease and the training course was well structured. I now feel extremely confident in training our staff and stewards at Twickenham.
We are really pleased with the customer service from Evac+Chair and would strongly recommend their products and training courses. The evacuation chairs are lifesaving pieces of equipment and once you know how to use them correctly, it gives you the confidence if the need ever arose to be able to safely and quickly evacuate a mobility impaired person.”