"Where an employer or a service provider does not make provision for the safe evacuation of disabled people from its premises, this may be viewed as discrimination. It may also constitute a failure to comply with the requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005." Fire safety risk assessment- Supplementary guide: Means of Escape for Disabled People.
The provision of evacuation devices, where necessary, is an essential part of the ‘duty of care’ of employers or service providers. There are a variety of products and devices available that have been specifically designed to enable the evacuation of disabled people in the event of fire. Throughout this article we will look at the legislation involved, the people affected and the products available to help meet this obligations. We have broken the guide down into the following sections:
There is no single piece of legislation that says in black and white that you must install evacuation devices. However, one of the key dictates of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) is the following:
Duty to take general fire precautions
8. –(1) The responsible person must–
Earlier in the document, general fire precautions are defined as:
Meaning of "general fire precautions"
4. –(1) In this Order “general fire precautions” in relation to premises means, subject to paragraph (2)–
Therefore, the direct implication is that steps must be taken to ensure the safety of any building occupants in the event of an emergency, specifically accounting for their 'means of escape'.
When the RRFSO is cross-referenced against the Equality Act 2010, it becomes even clearer that the means of evacuation for disabled people needs to be accounted for. Under the section ‘Adjustments for disabled persons’, the Equality Act 2010 states:
Duty to make adjustments
When considered as a whole, the legislative guidance can be condensed down to the following key points:
The Equality Act 2010 is a wide ranging piece of legislation that was introduced to replace the previous equality laws- The Equal Pay Act 1970, The Sex Discrimination Act 1975, The Race Relations Act 1976 and The Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
It is applicable to anyone classed as an employer or service provider. A service provider is defined as anyone providing goods, facilities or services to the general public, either at a charge or for free.
The final responsibility to ensure premises conform to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 lies with the ‘responsible person’. The definition of the responsible person within the legislation is as follows:
Meaning of "responsible person"
3. In this Order "responsible person" means–
Therefore it can be seen that the responsibilities outlined by the RRFSO effectively fall to the same people as the Equality Act 2010 - those employing people and/or providing services to the general public.
The main challenge when evacuating people with limited mobility is putting in place a system to safely manage the descent of stairs. The use of lifts is usually restricted in the event of a fire alarm. Therefore anyone above the ground floor that requires the use of a lift to change level will need access to an alternative escape route.
"It is important that both building managers and disabled people understand that planning for means of escape is about planning for exceptional circumstances (i.e. not an everyday event)." Fire safety risk assessment- Supplementary guide: Means of Escape for Disabled People.
Evacuation devices such as chairs or sledges are designed to help transfer people who otherwise couldn’t travel from one storey to another in the event of an emergency. Evacuation chairs will often be seen sited within or near to stairwells in multi-storey public and commercial buildings.
All public or commercial buildings are required under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to have in place an up to date Fire Risk Assessment. Part of this assessment should appraise the escape routes and highlight any failings in relation to evacuation of the occupants of a building.
A building that is open to the public must also have in place an evacuation plan that accounts for the safe escape of visitors with limited mobility.
If a regular occupant of, or visitor to a building has a particular difficulty that would affect their ability to escape the building in an emergency, this should be guarded against by the creation of a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan, or PEEP. These personalised plans are designed to appraise the specific needs of an individual and can often lead to additional equipment or processes being identified as necessary.
An example of a situation such as this is given in the official Means of Escape for Disabled People supplementary guide issued by the Government:
"A health club has a regular member who finds the stairs difficult. During their induction, the fitness instructor discusses their escape needs. An evacuation chair is provided at gym level. All instructors are trained in the use of the chair and they are introduced to the member." Fire safety risk assessment- Supplementary guide: Means of Escape for Disabled People.
This example shows an organisation that is responding appropriately to the specific needs of an individual, and therefore avoiding any discrimination caused by failing to account for their requirements.
Larger or more complicated environments such as hospitals or office complexes often implement a system known as phased evacuation. A phased evacuation raises the alarm in selected areas of the premises sequentially, giving priority to the areas most at risk from the fire. This is done to ensure that escape routes are not overloaded or to prevent vulnerable people from having to evacuate unnecessarily.
Horizontal evacuation is a concept that is often associated with large scale evacuations of multi-story buildings. To enable this as an option, buildings providing care for immobile patients are expected to exhibit the very highest standards of compartmentalisation. This allows trained staff members to initially move patients horizontally, past a minimum of two fire doors as a first stage evacuation.
This in turn removes the immediate need to transfer patients between levels, but a system must still be in place to evacuate patients should it be required. It is not acceptable to have a ‘dead end’ as part of any evacuation plan, and to quote once again from the Means of Escape for Disabled People supplementary guide:
"an evacuation plan should not rely upon the intervention of the Fire and Rescue Service to make it work" Fire safety risk assessment- Supplementary guide: Means of Escape for Disabled People.
Therefore it would still be expected that where necessary the relevant equipment to facilitate escape, such as an evacuation chair is provided.
Further information on evacuation types can be found on the Fire Safety Advice Centre website.
Some circumstances require specialist evacuation devices. Hospitals and nursing homes for example must account for the mobility level of their occupants in terms of evacuation.
Many of the products touched on so far are designed to enable people with limited mobility to escape in an emergency. It is reasonable to assume that anyone present in a public building or workplace has the mobility required to leave the house either under their own power, with the use of a mobility aid or with the assistance of a second individual.
However, hospitals and nursing homes can care for people with little to no mobility at all. This places the safe and effective evacuation of patients and residents solely in the hands of the care provider. In these situations it is common to find evacuation sheets or sledges in place.
Evacuation sheets are designed to be installed under the mattresses of patients that would not be able to leave their bed in the event of an emergency. The sheets are unobtrusive when fitted, but when needed offer side straps to secure the patient to their mattress and carry loops on each end to allow a pair of staff members to manually manoeuvre a patient out of a building while leaving the patient on his/her mattress.
Evacuation sledges follow a similar principle, but are stored in a central location rather than on each bed and usually require the transfer of the patient from the bed onto the evacuation sledge. These sledges often permit the use on stairs as well as they are padded and have pockets at their ends to stop the patient from sliding of the sledge.
So far, we have focused on enabling access to an emergency exit from above by safely descending stairs, as this is the most likely scenario where an evacuation device may be needed. However, sometimes it is necessary to move people up flights of stairs to reach ground level, or an appropriate emergency exit.
This would be the case if for example a wheelchair user was to use a lift to access a basement level within a building. In the event of a fire, use of the lift would likely be prohibited, which could leave those unable to use stairs unaided in peril. As part of the aforementioned duty of care to protect all users of a building from fire, steps must be taken to identify any potential scenarios such as this and to mitigate the danger wherever possible.
That is where devices such as the EVAC+CHAIR IBEX TranSeat come into their own. Specially designed to facilitate the ascent as well as descent of stairs, these devices offer a controlled solution to the problem. Innovative design features allow just two users to safely guide the chair up stairs with minimal resistance making use of specially designed tracks.
Once an appropriate range of evacuation devices have been chosen and installed, it is necessary to have them periodically maintained to ensure peak performance in the event of an emergency.
In partnership with the manufacturers, Evac+Chair, we are delighted to be able to offer the all-encompassing Servicare Plan. Available across mainland UK, the servicing is carried out by specialist engineers who are able to carry out any necessary repairs on-site, and will leave customers with a service certificate ensuring they comply with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER):
Safelincs sell a full range of evacuation products, all covered by our best price guarantee. Our bestselling range of products is the EVAC+CHAIR Range, and there are several different models to choose from. To aid in your decision making, we have summarised the capabilities of each chair:
Our best-selling device. Supplied with a dust cover for protection, and a CD user guide demonstrating how to use the product, this is the perfect solution for standard applications.
The 500 model offers additional weight capacity and a secondary set of handles allowing two operatives to transfer heavier passengers. The chair itself remains lightweight to avoid adding any extra burden.
The 600H has been specially designed for locations with difficult access. Supplied with additional handles, the chair allows up to four operatives, enabling the chair to be used to climb stairs as well as descend them.
The 700H, otherwise known as the IBEX TranSeat, is the most advanced evacuation device available. Capable of ascending stairs without being lifted, this device removes the need for more than two users to evacuate up stairs.
We hope that our guide has helped you understand the legislation regarding evacuation devices, and the options available to meet these responsibilities.
If you have any further questions about evacuation devices, or fire safety equipment in general, feel free to contact our customer support team via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on 0800 612 6537.