Do buildings need fire evacuation chairs?


The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) came into force over six years ago and included a requirement to take special note of fire safety relating to disabled persons and other vulnerable users. Despite the fact that this legislation became law in October 2006, many managers are still unsure or unaware of their exact duties.

Government guidance books can help managers carry out fire risk assessments for their buildings, produce fire emergency plans, evacuation procedures and implement adequate and effective fire safety measures. One book specifically covers “Means of Escape for Disabled People” and should help building managers and responsible persons make adequate provision for disabled staff, visitors and residents in buildings.

On a fire marshal course held by Fire Training London the question asked by an attendee was “Do we need evacuation chairs in our building?” The simple answer could have been “What does your fire risk assessment say?”, but instead the fire marshal training course attendees were asked what they thought the answer was. These were their answers!

“We do not need disabled procedures as we never have disabled visitors and do not have disabled staff!”

“We were told you can leave disabled persons in the refuges in the staircases and let the fire brigade get them out!!”

“We have skid chairs but no-one likes getting in them or using them!”

“We have a fire lift and evacuate disabled persons in them.” (Further investigation revealed it was a fire fighting lift which grounded when the alarm operated)

These answers demonstrate a clear lack of knowledge of not only the FSO and fire safety measures, but also issues such as disability and equality legislation.

So how should a fire safety manager or nominated person answer the question posed above? Well it really does depend on the fire risk assessment, on the type of building, the types of activities that are carried out and the people in the building! Every premise will have different risks and hazards, but they must have adequate arrangements to evacuate all persons from the building. Therefore, it may be best for organisations that have disabled staff, visitors or clients to provide themselves with the equipment needed to deal with any emergencies that arise.

Evacuation chairs are an efficient way of evacuating disabled or less mobile occupants in stair areas, but if this type of equipment is used it must be accompanied by a robust procedure that includes:

•Sufficient number of evacuation chairs and slings for all persons requiring evacuation – multi use of equipment that involves re-entry should be avoided wherever possible.

•Regular training for those that will operate the equipment. This should be first carried out by equipment specialists and then at least monthly by the operatives (Monthly refresher training should take less than 5 to 10 minutes for each person).  Training is best carried out without involving the disabled person in case transferring to the equipment causes an injury. Evacuating any disabled person should only be carried out during real evacuations and fire drills.

•A full assessment of all disabled persons working in the building to ensure that the equipment is suitable for their needs should be undertaken. This will be part of the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEPs) process carried out for the individual. It is recommended that the individual also takes part in this assessment. Standard PEEPs should also be developed for occasional visitors.

•A robust and well-practised communications procedure to ensure that buddies and evacuation chair users meet disabled persons in suitable pre-arranged refuges, at their work station or room. They will also need to know all locations where evacuation chairs are kept.

•That any disabled evacuation / evacuation chair policy is part of a full system of escape and accounting procedure for the building.

Managers should  pay regard to the health and safety ramifications of not providing such evacuation chairs, as well as giving consideration to potential legal action and the personal dignity issues of carrying down a disabled person manually.

For further details and information why not book on one of fire marshal courses London or book a disabled evacuation course.

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