Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants
Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants


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Disabled Evacuation Procedures

With the increasing access provided for disabled occupants, greater reliance is placed on evacuation.  The Disability Discrimination Act (2005) (DDA) places requirements on building owners to provide access to buildings but all too commonly their safe escape in the event of a fire has not been given the same level of consideration.

With regards to disabled evacuation procedures, the requirements will vary depending on the environment.  Broadly, there are three categories for consideration: where the occupancy is fully known and can be controlled, e.g. a small office; where the occupancy can be controlled by a reception desk or similar, e.g. sports centre; where the occupancy is totally uncontrolled, e.g. a shopping centre.

Depending on your occupancy, different requirements are necessary.  For example, a small office can relatively easily become fully aware of any requirements necessary for disabled staff.  A bespoke Personal Emergency Escape Plan (PEEP) can be documented and implemented by all.  In the instance of partially controlled occupancy, regular visitors should have a PEEP in place, with generic procedures in place for infrequent / unknown visitors.  Where the likely occupancy can not be fully determined, reliance must be placed on the staff’s ability to assist occupants where necessary, once more a series of generic PEEP’s should be produced to cover some of the likely scenarios.  With any incident, it is clear that pre-planning is the key to success.

Disabled evacuation procedures must formulate part of the Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) process.  Within the FRA ‘people at risk’ will be identified and these will be the starting point for consultation where possible.

Specific procedures must be considered for disabled occupants, their escape is likely to be more complicated than the general population of a building.  A starting point for any escape strategy should be self escape for disabled occupants.  This approach is simplistic and has little potential for error as reliance is not placed on other occupants/equipment.  Notwithstanding this, it is unlikely this will be a solution for all occupants, some will need assistance and this will be an outcome of their PEEP assessment.

In order to generate a realistic escape plan a number of features must be considered.  The individual(s) and their specific disabilities, the fire safety features in place (existing), for example fire compartmentation to support places of temporary refuge to the fire alarm system outputs (visual beacons etc) to alert those with hearing impairments.  Staff training will have to be considered along with the requirements for evacuation aids to assist persons with vertical movements where necessary.  It must be noted that in the majority of instances passenger lifts do not form part of the disabled evacuation strategy unless they have been specifically designed for that purpose.

Where the PEEP assessment identifies deficiencies in the existing arrangements, it is normal to make reasonable adjustments.  This does not necessarily mean that building owners have to install lifts where they aren’t already but realist adaptations should be made to assist disabled occupants in their escape.  Reasonable provision is a concept considered with the DDA.

It must be noted that disabled occupants have a responsibility to co-operate, working on the principle that people are responsible for their own escape.

When considering disabled escape, a wide spectrum and disabilities must be considered as each scenario will have different requirements.  Mobility impairments and wheelchair users are commonly associated with disabled occupants, however disabilities take a far broader form.  Managers must consider hearing impairments, visual impairments, persons with cognitive disabilities and also the needs of persons with temporary disabilities, for example an occupant with a broken leg.

Technological advances and the ability to undertaken managed evacuations means that an acceptable solution is likely to be available for the majority of situations.

The fundamental factors in producing evacuation plans for disabled occupants is consultation, communication, effective management and understanding along with provision of physical facilities where necessary.

If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment to discuss your fire safety requirements – please call Peter Gyere, Marketing Director on 020 8668 8663.


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