Are you fully prepared for an emergency evacuation?
We are all acutely aware of our responsibilities to ensure every person within our building is able to evacuate quickly and safely in the event of an emergency. If someone suffers from some form of mobility issue, provision must be provided to ensure their potential escape alongside those who are able-bodied, from upper levels of the building to a place of safety. For example, in the event of a fire, most businesses instruct their employees not to use the lifts and to use the stairs as the means of escape. For those less mobile, a place of safe refuge is sometimes available to wait for assistance in their rescue.
Under current UK legislation, provision has to be made for any mobility impaired person within an organisation in relation to the two pieces of legislation:
Equality Act 2010 – Adjustments to the workplace where physical features of the premises are likely to place a mobility impaired person at a disadvantage. When an employer or service provider does not make the provisions for evacuation of mobility impaired persons from its premises, this may be viewed as discrimination.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – Employers or organisations must take responsibility for ensuring that all people, including disabled people, can leave the building they control, safely in the event of a fire. This is no-longer the responsibility of the Fire Service.
To meet their obligations, businesses are increasingly looking at evacuation chairs and mattresses, as cost effective solutions to the issue of getting a vulnerable person down and out safely in the event of an emergency evacuation. Having made the decision to purchase such equipment, it shouldn’t be just a ‘tick box’ exercise. Once the equipment is in place there are other issues that need to be considered not just ‘how to use it to’.
Who may require help?
The obvious answer is someone in a wheelchair, right? But don’t always assume they require the use of a chair or mattress. Some will prefer to manage their own rescue, with some assistance, while others may sit on the floor and shuffle down.
Others to be aware of include pregnancy, those on medication, suffering some form of medical condition, a temporary injury (post operation, sports, broken leg), the elderly or infirm as well as those with a possible cognitive disorder.
Reasons to evacuate
There are many situations why we may need to get out of our building, the most practised one being areas that are on fire or filling with smoke. This is the one we have a plan in place for, under the Fire Safety Order and the one we have regular drills for. But we should also be aware of the other causes that may require us to leave a building. They include danger from bomb or bullet – the terrorist threat. For some businesses, this is just as critical a plan as that for dealing with a fire.
You could be affected by environmental factors such as flooding, as we’ve seen during the recent winter storms, both from burst banks and river defences, or from above via excess rain causing building leaks. Even accidental structural damage may cause you to have to leave your building. However, the most common reason is probably due to an unknown loss of power. It stops the lifts working, systems to go down and you need to evacuate everyone to find out the cause. While it may not be a full ‘emergency’, you can’t have people in a building without power.
Location of equipment
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula you can add the number of floors your building has plus the number of people in and it will tell you how many pieces of evacuation equipment you need. A comprehensive risk analysis is essential to determine exactly who is at risk and where those risks will occur. Are there any floors which people with mobility problems will never have to go to? How many floors are there and how many exits per floor? What means of escape are available to both the able-bodied and those with mobility difficulties?
Once determined, the rule of thumb is ONE piece of equipment on ONE floor will serve ONE person and should be located near to the person it serves or in areas with increased risk such as:
- Disabled toilets
- Canteen, café or restaurants
- Communal areas/conference rooms
- Public galleries or viewing area
- And emergency exits
Additional points to consider and to be aware of during an emergency.
Knowing where all of the emergency exits are within your building – Which is the nearest to you? Are they all accessible from every part of the building? Which one is best suitable for those with mobility difficulties?
Are they clear of any obstructions – are they checked every day?
Where the assembly point is located – is it possible to get to it from every exit point?
Is the route to it easy to traverse with the evacuation equipment – it is a must do exercise to walk the escape route with your piece of evacuation equipment to see if there are any features that may cause you problems for example, if you are pushing a chair. These may include curb stones, grass/shingle areas or cobblestone paths.
If there are other roles or responsibilities of the equipment operator during the emergency – try to avoid placing too many duties on those who have more than one responsibility in an emergency.
Who is able to operate the evacuation equipment – ensure you have enough trained staff to cover your hours of business. This could include security staff, night shift or volunteers.
Regardless of the equipment provided, training should be as regular as that arranged for Fire Marshalls or First Aiders and incorporated into similar programs. Continuous training will build confidence for nominated operators and ultimately competence in it’s use.
Remember, there should be no reason for someone less mobile to be left behind while others are able to escape un-aided – that is discrimination.