1. Introduction

The safe evacuation of mobility impaired people from a building with storeys other than at ground level presents many difficulties and there are several documents that offer guidance on the structural measures and management procedures that should be in place. Wheelchair users are those most commonly thought of as requiring additional facilities and assistance to leave a building. However there are others with ‘hidden’ disabilities such as heart or respiratory conditions or temporary conditions such as broken limbs that will also require assistance.

BS5588:Part 8 contains guidance on means of escape for mobility impaired people. The main underlying principle of this standard is the provision of temporary places of refuge. These are areas separated from the rest of the building by fire resisting construction and from which there is a safe route to a final exit. Refuges are typically located within, or adjacent to, a protected stair and are designed to accommodate a wheelchair without obstructing other evacuees. Each refuge has a sign identifying its function and indicating that it must be kept clear. In some circumstances it may also have a means of communication to a central control point. In the event of a fire, a mobility impaired person would move to the nearest available refuge, remain there until the stair had cleared and descend (or ascend) with or without assistance. (For the remainder of these notes it will be assumed that people will be descending stairs).

From 1 October 2010, the Equality Act replaced most of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). However, the Disability Equality Duty in the DDA continues to apply

In most cases the alarm will be the result of a minor incident or a false alarm and it may not be necessary for mobility impaired people to continue with the evacuation. If evacuation is necessary then they should be able to do so safely. There has been a commonly (and incorrectly) held view that it is only necessary for management to ensure mobility impaired people are taken to a refuge* and that further evacuation will be done by the Fire Brigade.

The Fire Authority position is that the safe evacuation of people with disabilities is the responsibility of the employer or other person having control of the building and not that of the Fire Authority. Therefore, people with impaired mobility etc should not be directed to remain in refuges awaiting the arrival of the Fire Service. The responsible person should therefore make all the necessary arrangements for the safe evacuation of all persons with disabilities from the refuge.

* The definition of a refuge, given in the Building Regulations 2000 Approved Document B Volume 2 is; “A relatively safe waiting area for short periods. It is not an area where mobility impaired people should be left alone indefinitely until rescued by the Fire & Rescue Service, or until the fire is extinguished”.

2. Mobility impaired people in buildings

Building Regulations and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (and Equality Act 2010) are designed to ensure that people with disabilities are afforded better access to and within buildings. It follows that facilities must also be provided to ensure such people can be evacuated safely in the event of an emergency.

All buildings, particularly those that are open to the public, are likely to be visited by people of all abilities. Consequently local management may have to establish arrangements and facilities to ensure their safe evacuation. This will include people with mobility, hearing and visual disabilities.

3. Fire safety management and procedures

Premises Managers (Responsible Persons) should ensure that suitable arrangements and facilities are in place to evacuate mobility impaired people.

Evacuation procedures should be tested regularly and all people should participate. It cannot be assumed that external assistance will be available to aid mobility impaired people to escape in a real emergency and it will be necessary for volunteer staff (Fire Marshals/Wardens) to practice how mobility impaired people will be assisted during practice evacuations.

Training requirements for volunteer staff will depend on a number of factors including the building layout, the facilities available, the number of mobility impaired people and the extent and type of their disabilities. Local management should assess the number of people that will require training in the methods of evacuating mobility impaired people. This should take account of the number of people with disabilities, the extent and nature of their disability and the working patterns of the staff. Where staff are likely to be regularly engaged in outdoor duties it may be necessary to train a large pool of staff to ensure that sufficient volunteers will be available in an emergency. Managers also need to recognise that, for the purposes of ensuring safe evacuation, arrangements need to be made to cope with those with a temporary disability e.g. broken leg.

4. Typical arrangements in Business Premises

The fire safety management team in most buildings will consist of the –

Fire Safety Manager

Fire Warden or Marshal

Where mobility impaired people visit or work in a building it may be necessary to seek volunteers to assist them to leave the building in the event of not only an emergency but in the event of the breakdown of a lift. If no volunteers are available then it may not be safe for that person to work in the building and Premises Managers will need to review their arrangements.

The number of volunteers required will depend on the number of mobility impaired people employed or visiting, the nature of their disability and the facilities available. Sufficient numbers must also be available to cover for leave, sick absence and staff on outdoor duties.

In the event of an emergency, volunteers assigned to a mobility impaired person should start to evacuate them immediately to a refuge. It will be necessary to wait until the majority of people have cleared the stairs before descent commences to avoid congestion and possible accidents.

4.1 Assisting people with disabilities

In almost all cases the mobility impaired person will be best placed to advise how they should be assisted and they should be consulted in the drawing up of any procedures or plans and again prior to any evacuation.

4.1.1 Visual Disability

People with a visual disability will usually require the assistance of one person. On stairways the helper should descend first with the persons hand on their shoulder. On level surfaces they should take the helpers arm and follow them.

4.1.2 Hearing Disability

People with a hearing disability will require some means of being warned of an alarm. There are a number of ways that this can be done e.g. pagers that vibrate when the fire alarm is activated.

4.1.3 Physical Disability

This can cover a wide range of abilities including people who have a permanent disability and use wheelchairs to those who have broken limbs or who are in an advanced state of pregnancy and would require assistance for stair descent. There are also those people who have hidden disabilities. It is important that staff, who may have hidden or temporary disabilities, inform their line manager immediately in order that suitable arrangements can be put in place.

Most published guidance recommends that wheelchair users be carried in their own chair. This can only be done if staff

• receive specific manual handling training,

• they are physically equipped to undertake the task

• and they are available in sufficient numbers.

Some wheelchair users may be reluctant to be carried downstairs and therefore, where possible, arrangements for their safe evacuation should be discussed with them in advance. Stairs and lobbies may be equipped with combination stretcher/chairs and these will be useful for people with temporary disabilities and hidden disabilities. Building managers should consider the training and availability of staff before these chairs can be used. If the mobility impaired person is too heavy to be carried, either in their own chair or a stretcher/chair. Premises Managers should consider making special arrangements for the safety of the individual.

The evacuation plan should also make provision for the mobility impaired person once they have left the building, particularly if their wheelchair has not been used to evacuate them.

5. Checklist

The safe evacuation of mobility impaired people from a building in a fire situation requires careful forward planning. There are a number of key points that need to be considered.

• Is the building available to members of the public, what areas are they likely to visit and what facilities are available to allow them to evacuate safely?

• Facilities and procedures in a building can only cater for a finite number of mobility impaired people. What measures are in place to control access?

• If a mobility impaired person is to be employed in the building, has a full assessment of his/her needs been conducted, what facilities are in place and/or what will be required prior to commencement of work to ensure a safe environment?

• Will adequate trained volunteers be available?

• Have written procedures been put in place?

Only when the above have been answered can work on the PEEP begun.

6. Assisting Wheelchair Users (Or People With Mobility Difficulties) Down Stairs

6.1 Temporary Refuges

A refuge is a designated temporary safe space where mobility impaired people can wait for assistance from other members of staff. It is an area that is both separated from a fire by fire resisting construction and provides a safe route to final exit e.g. the head of a protected stairway - where there is sufficient space. The provision of a refuge will permit a staged evacuation to be implemented. A refuge area must be clearly signed and should be of sufficient size to accommodate both people using it as a refuge and any people passing through on their way out of the building.

Refuges should only be defined after consultation with the Fire Risk Assessor as the requirements for fire separation and structure are very specific and the inclusion of a refuge in the building will also require alteration to the Building Fire Risk Assessment.

A refuge can only be defined if there is also a specific procedure implemented to ensure that persons are able to be evacuated from the Refuge under safe and controlled conditions. It is the responsibility of the responsible person to ensure that persons are evacuated and not left for the Fire Brigade to extract.

6.2 Lifts

Most lifts cannot be used in an emergency. Any lift use for the evacuation of mobility impaired people should be either a “fire-fighting lift” or an “evacuation lift.” The Safety Office will be able to tell you if and in what circumstances a lift may be used in the event of a fire.

If you believe that there is a suitable lift then the Safety Office will advise on the correct procedure for using the lift as an evacuation lift and will also advise on the signage and training necessary.

6.3 Safe Routes

A PEEP should contain details of the escape route/s and any equipment the mobility impaired person will be expected to use. Clear unobstructed gangways and floor layouts should be considered at the planning stage. A plan can be attached to the PEEP.

Wherever possible Horizontal Evacuation routes should be sought out so that the evacuating person can move freely into an adjacent building without having to negotiate steps and stairs. The fire risk assessor should be able to advise on the extent of fire alarms and the fire separation between buildings so that these routes can be better designed.

It is especially important to ensure that locks, doors and other devices are all able to be operated by the evacuating persons. It is not acceptable to have an escape route if the door furniture is inaccessible.

It is also necessary to ensure that there are (as much as possible) alternative routes and that the routes are not excessively long.

Enquire Now   Ask an Expert   Free Logbook  

As seen on BBC Breakfast. Click here to view.
Fire Training Video Hosted on YouTube

Trainers UK Wide