Over 20,000 non-dwelling building fires were reported to fire departments in Great Britain from 2010 – 2011. Businesses and organisations around the UK must recognise their duty of care to on-site employees to ensure everyone, including employees who may be mobility impaired. Proper preparation and planning, and regular emergency drills, must be carried out by employers before an emergency situation arises so that every business complies with fire regulations and avoids fatalities.
Many organisations may be unaware that it’s no longer the responsibility of the fire service to co-ordinate the rescue and evacuation of occupants within their premises.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a legal duty on those individuals with responsibility over the management and operation of the premises to provide adequate means of escape in the event of a fire for all building occupants – not just their employees, but all individuals on-site including those who may be visitors to the building.
The Equality Act (2010), which replaced the majority of the Disability Discrimination Act, underpins fire safety legislation by stating that where an employer or service provider does not make provision for the safe evacuation of disabled people from its premises, it may be viewed as discrimination.
Mark Wallace, Managing Director of Evac+Chair International, said: “Businesses and organisations around the UK are putting staff and visitors at serious risk by not taking those who are mobility-impaired into account when planning for and carrying out evacuation drills.
“It is important to also consider who may have difficulties in evacuating a building, particularly if it has a number of flights of stairs. As well as those individuals with disabilities, employers should consider anyone who may have hidden health conditions, such as asthma or heart difficulties. Women in their third trimester of pregnancy may also have mobility difficulties and in an emergency evacuation may need assistance in descending staircases.”
A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) will be required for anyone with a mobility impairment. With recent news reports indicating a rise in pregnancy rates, employers should take action to ensure that pregnant workers are not exposed to any avoidable, significant risks by carrying out a full risk assessment, which should also be carefully reviewed throughout the duration of the worker’s pregnancy. Any risks discovered in the assessment should be quickly mitigated.
Mark Wallace adds: “Employers should create a clear plan of escape for employees to follow. The plan should be circulated to all employees and updated regularly when a business or organisation hires new staff or individual circumstances change. Regular escape drills are essential for employers to keep all workers safe and aware of what routes to take during an emergency.”
Another consideration for employers is the rise of obesity levels, with almost a quarter of adults in England now classified as obese. The rise of obesity greatly impacts employer evacuation policies and procedures as new equipment and plans will be required to safely evacuate a heavier workforce.
Evac+Chair International has carried out extensive research in reviewing how to assist in the safe evacuation of bariatric employees. Their research has helped employers understand how important it is to consider and plan for the evacuation of these workers too as a priority and part of their duty of care.
Mark Wallace, continues: “The culmination of our research and development has resulted in the recent launch of a chair which will cater for a heavier weight capacity of up to 200kg. Equipment, including our latest chair and any of our other evacuation chairs and aides provide businesses with the opportunity to easily comply with legislation which require safe evacuation for employees of all sizes.”
Consistent practice drills in multi-storey buildings can be life-saving measures. If on-site emergency equipment is available, such as evacuation chairs, it is critical to incorporate these resources in drills so that everyone is prepared to use the equipment in the event of an emergency. Specific employees should be trained in the use of emergency evacuation chairs and designated as the operator. Employees with mobility impairments should be notified of who has been trained to use the equipment so they can find this person in an emergency.
To assist with evacuation procedures, Evac+Chair also provides the TAGEVAC system to assist fire wardens and building managers in indicating “safe and clear” areas as a check off system during an emergency. Custom boxes with magnetic “all clear” strips are placed throughout the building to designate fire zones that have been cleared of on-site employees and visitors.
Mark Wallace explains: “After each area has been checked the magnets from every area are taken outside to the designated meeting area during emergencies and placed into the short form folder so that any unchecked areas can be seen easily and the fire department is able to go back in to double check any areas that still may have people inside.”
Safety in the future
Legislation changes have altered health and safety evacuation roles and responsibilities in the current business world. Social trends, such as an increase in obesity and a rise in pregnancy rates, should also impact on how employers plan for evacuating all employees in the event of an emergency.
Employers must now prioritise creating and updating evacuation plans for their employees and on-site visitors. It is critical for employers to be up-to-date with their health and safety procedures and to have adequate equipment to comply with current legislation, as well as providing all employees with continued practice drills and ensuring employees are well trained in operating on-site evacuation equipment.