The LWF Blog

Fire Safety for Facilities Management Personnel – Means of Escape for Disabled People – Part 141

March 21, 2022 11:53 am

Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF) is a specialist fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy whose aim is to give information on best practice in fire safety for facilities management personnel through this blog series. In part 140, LWF discussed means of escape for people with disabilities and evacuation lifts. In part 141, we continue to discuss means of escape for people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users.

In the past, the number of wheelchair users working in a building was often low and so a management system of evacuation strategies including the ‘buddy’ system to enable a safe evacuation was sufficient. In recent years, the right of access to a building by people with disabilities means that many more wheelchair users may require assistance with evacuation in case of a fire.

It is sometimes acceptable to utilise passenger lifts or even goods lifts for the evacuation of wheelchair users. In order for this to be suitable, a careful risk assessment should be undertaken, as it must not be the case that the solution is suggested as simply a cost-cutting measure to avoid implementing a suitable and reliable means for evacuating disabled people.

On the occasions where it is considered acceptable, it may be based on the idea that it would be safer for wheelchair users to be evacuated in a passenger or goods lift from a tall building than for them to be carried down many flights of stairs by relatively unskilled colleagues. In some circumstances, the expectation that the buddy system would be sufficient might actually endanger the disabled person and those assisting.

The use of such lifts by wheelchair users in a fire situation must also be subject to certain conditions and suitable fire safety strategies. For example, in a building designed with adequate compartmentation and a comprehensive automatic fire detection system, as a part of an addressable fire alarm system, the alert indicating a fire should give information on the whereabouts of the fire and the size. This information can be used to ascertain if it is safe to use a passenger or goods lift for the wheelchair user to evacuate. If the fire is sufficiently separated both from the compartment containing the lift and the equipment controlling the lift and if the fire is in the early stages, it may be safe for the lift to be used by the wheelchair user.

In part 142 of this series, LWF will continue to discuss means of escape for disabled people and wheelchair users. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.


Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings.

While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.

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