The LWF Blog

Designing and managing buildings | Taking into account people with disabilities – Part Two, Access vs Egress

June 5, 2014 12:10 pm

Continuing on last week’s blog theme of designing and managing buildings which are suitable for use by differently able people, we established that the range of disabilities to be taken into account was great and, in addition, that the number of people needing to access the building who may have a disability is considerable.

In addition, last week’s blog looked mainly at the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, but the Equality Act of 2010 has formally replaced and encompassed that act and goes further than the original DDA when considering the provision of services or facilities to a person with a disability.

The DDA related, in the main, to the need for a lack of discrimination in places of employment, while the EA protects people from disadvantage in areas beyond that field, such as the provision of services, goods and facilities. The EA does not simply aim for equality for those people who are differently abled, but applies to any person who may face discrimination and replaced various legal acts, bringing the essence into one piece of law and enhancing the provisions.

Access vs Egress

Therefore, to meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, many organisations have had disabled access audits undertaken. These audits take place by way of an inspection which reviews access in and around a property. Such audits review the means by which the organisation’s premises are accessed and identify any changes required to provide access to all facilities for persons who are physically disabled and unable to use traditional or existing means to move around buildings.

The access consultant might be able to make recommendations for service ‘provision’ in convenient locations, but often, the ‘unique’ parts of the organisation are located in the most remote and inaccessible parts of the building.

The access consultant is only charged with planning access into and around a building. Some access audits which achieve the objective of general access, miss the opportunity to integrate an emergency evacuation strategy. This means that work carried out to improve access has to be supplemented at a later date with further disabled egress work. This results in potential cost savings being missed – and, often, a less than satisfactory solution. 

So whose responsibility is the emergency evacuation of the disabled?

The answer is the occupier of the premises. His or her responsibility is outlined within The Management of Health and Safety at Work and Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 2003, which place responsibility on the employer to ensure safety from fire in the workplace. 

The fire risk assessment process makes it quite clear that any change in risk to life from fire should be reflected with appropriate measures taken to offset any risks identified. Allowing disabled persons into the building by means of lifts or other powered systems without providing for suitable means of egress is increasing the life risk, quite possibly to an unacceptable level.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work and Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 2003 cite that each employer is responsible for the provision of suitable escape for persons in his employ or on the premises and that, where necessary, personnel should be provided to assist escape.

The Fire Service are not responsible for the evacuation of anyone, even the disabled – it is the employer’s duty. The Fire Service has a duty to rescue people. The term “rescue” infers that someone must be in a life-threatening situation requiring the immediate intervention by the fire brigade. 

A differently able or mobility impaired person positioned in a refuge, for example,  isn’t someone whom requires rescue, they are certainly not in a life threatening situation, unless of course somehow the fire has spread into the refuge area which would be extremely rare. However the employer should have in place suitable procedures to safely evacuate this person from the refuge in an emergency situation.

So therefore, if access is given to areas within the property then clearly egress arrangements must also be put in place to ensure the safe evacuation of disabled persons from the property. Clearly, if access and egress is considered at the earliest stage, for all parties, then safe building design would be achieved.

The subjects of means of escape and refuges will be continued in more detail in next week’s blog. In the meantime if you have any queries about this blog article or wish to speak to someone regarding the involvement of a fire engineer in your design or renovation project, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 020 8668 8663.

LWF are fire engineering and fire risk management consultants with over twenty five years’ experience in the development of fire engineered technology and the application of fire safety standards including fire engineered techniques.

Sources: ODI: The Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Legislation Government Website: The Management of Health and Safety at work and Fire Precautions (workplace) (amendment) Regulations 2003

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