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Rising challenge

07 October 2019

Safe evacuation for all is imperative and evacuation plans need to consider the design of the building and the occupants inside. Colin Moore looks at the options for individuals needing assistance.

Safe evacuation for all is imperative and evacuation plans need to consider the design of the building and the occupants inside. Colin Moore looks at the options for individuals needing assistance.

THE TREND for building high-rises in UK cities continues apace. The proliferation of cranes dominating our skylines is testament to the rapid growth in both residential and commercial blocks.

Against this backdrop, fire and building regulations in high rise buildings are under fierce scrutiny following the Grenfell Fire and Hackitt’s subsequent review of building safety. The scrutiny involves ongoing reviews, development of tighter management and regulatory regimes and an overhaul of technical and materials requirements. 

Regulation is not the only driver of change. The Equality Act 2010 has improved access to employment and facilities for all, including the mobility impaired. When an employer or service provider does not make the appropriate provisions for evacuation of mobility impaired persons from its premises, this will be viewed as discrimination, as inclusivity in workplaces, education and public buildings is now becoming the norm. 

The Government has set itself a target to have 4.5 million people with disabilities in employment by 20271. At the same time, Age UK has collated data showing the number of older people in the workforce is increasing year-on-year, with more than a third of the UK’s workforce now aged over 502.

What does safe evacuation for all mean in reality? 

When it comes to evacuation from multi-storey buildings, there are several factors that need to be taken into account. Plans need to be able to flex to accommodate the fluctuating and evolving needs of building occupants.

Policy and procedures are driven by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which is also currently under review3. These regulations set out the role of the responsible person to ensure safe evacuation of every building occupant – this is not the responsibility of the fire service. Lack of such a plan could result in injury or loss of life as well as possible enforcement action. 

Planning is ultimately what will drive the success or failure of any building’s evacuation policies and procedures. A full audit of a building, its risks and the needs of occupants will need to be undertaken on a regular basis to ensure those policies and procedures are effective and up to date. The needs of individuals must be addressed and documented by a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP). 

Who needs a PEEP?

PEEPs are required for any individual who may not be able to evacuate a building safely without assistance.

It is also important to consider persons with conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, autism, Asperger syndrome or other cognitive or psychological disabilities which may them to become confused, challenged or disorientated in an emergency situation. 

In addition to the above conditions, it’s also important to consider the following groups of people:

  • The elderly or infirm 

  • Women in the advanced stages of pregnancy 

  • Persons with sports injuries or broken limbs 

  • Persons recovering from operations or other treatment 

The person who the PEEP is being prepared for should be involved and consulted throughout the whole process in order to ensure the plan will work effectively. The arrangements will need to be functional and fluid as there may be a need to remain adaptable to potential changes in the environment, the fire protection of the premises and the individual’s needs. 

The PEEP should include information about:

  • The location and times the person may reasonably be expected to be on the building premises

  • Locations of protected routes

  • The evacuation procedures relevant to that person

  • How to activate the alarm

  • What assistance they will need

  • The designated, fully trained ‘buddies’ that will assist them

  • What equipment is available to assist them down flights of stairs in the event of lifts being unavailable, such as an evacuation chair, and details of where these devices are located 

Disabled visitors and contractors should not be overlooked in the planning process. Staff should be made aware of the need to determine whether visitors require assistance in the event of an emergency, so that they can ensure arrangements are in place to deal with this. 

All plans need to be supported with regular drills and training to ensure that everyone involved is comfortable with their role and responsibilities. 

Specialist evacuation equipment should also be certified via an accredited body and tested and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions or relevant local regulatory framework i.e. PUWER Regulations.

An Evac+Chair is classified within the EU as a Class 1 medical device. It must conform to the provisions of the Medical Devices Regulations EU 2017/745. This requires that all such products carry the CE mark – recognised worldwide as a sign of quality. It is also type-tested through TUV NORD of Germany and conforms to the most stringent quality management system for build quality: ISO 13485:2016. 

Full records must be kept, in line with GDPR, of the requirement of PEEPS, internal training and drills and equipment testing and maintenance to support best practice compliance with regulations. 

Not all buildings are created equal

While there is much focus in the news on fire safety in high rise buildings, the needs of mobility impaired building occupants must be taken into account in any building where safe evacuation routes are only available via a stairway.

Shopping centres, restaurants, cinemas, museums and hotels – or any other building where lifts, short stair runs or escalators are typically used – all need to take into account the needs of disabled and mobility impaired occupants for both access and escape. 

The type of building may mean that it also needs to take into account additional regulations. Take football stadia for instance, Everton FC – a Premier League football club, has committed to comply with the new regulations for disabled access set out in the Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG). It has undergone major redevelopment and has fitted Evac+Chairs for Everton’s mobility-impaired supporters who are unable to use the stairways in an emergency.

Everton’s commitment to become ASG-compliant, lead them to making a substantial investment to ensure equality in evacuation, and prevent discrimination for all their fans in its 39,950 capacity, Goodison Park stadium. 

The improvements involved significant work including a range of new viewing positions for fans with disabilities, new evacuation equipment and improved toilets and facilities. A key part of the project was installing new, elevated wheelchair viewing platforms and a number of accessible seating options in various areas of the ground.

All Premier League clubs agreed to comply with the requirements of the Sports Grounds and Safety Authority (SGSA) Accessible Stadia document.

In terms of accessibility, one of the criticisms levelled at several clubs was that wheelchair users suffered poor sightlines of the match by being positioned at pitch level. The new elevated platforms at Goodison Park now provide an additional 89 positions for wheelchair users between the Goodison Road Main Stand and Sir Phillip Carter Park stand, as well as some additional elevated positions in the Howard Kendall Gwladys street stand and the Bullens Road away end. In total, positions for wheelchair users at Goodison Park have now increased to 214 spaces. 

A range of improvements – including four, new, fully-accessible lifts, two new, accessible wheel chair lifts, new stairs and designated entrances and exits – have significantly improved access and emergency evacuation.

The club already had 12 evacuation chairs in place, and has recently invested in another four chairs in order to become fully compliant.

Everton FC has made the significant investment to ensure equality for all visitors even though the club is set to relocate to a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock on the Liverpool waterfront in the future.

Richard Cairns, facilities manager at Everton FC, says: “We chose to invest in our ground regardless of the new stadium because, as a club, we are committed to all our supporters and hold the need for equality, particularly in sports, in high regard.

“Evacuation procedures obviously underpin our fire safety strategy, but we also need to provide for any circumstance where someone may need assistance and the lifts are out of action. Correct evacuation training is vital for all football clubs as, you can imagine, we have a lot of people working here on match days, so we needed to develop a policy that enables us to train as many of our team as possible. Evac+Chair helped implement a training programme for key match day staff and accessibility Stewards and we are confident that all of our fans and visitors to Goodison Park would be evacuated safety and correctly in an emergency.”

The chair model chosen by Everton FC is the 300H which has a 182kg carrying capacity and is designed for one-person operation. It avoids the need for heavy lifting or manual handling.

Keeping pace with change

Your building’s safety policies and procedures must be reviewed regularly to keep pace with legislation and changes in the nature of risk to safeguard the wellbeing of every occupant or visitor.

As new employees join your team, new visitors come to your premises or the use of your building changes, it is vital that your procedures are adapted to adequately account for the needs of every occupant – especially those with visual, hearing or mobility impairments. 

Every building is different – so tailoring your evacuation plan to suit your building, its occupants and its purpose is critical to reducing your safety risks. 

Colin Moore is UK sales manager at Evac+Chair. For more information, visit www.evacchair.co.uk