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October 20, 2021

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People with disabilities ‘at risk’ due to lack of clarity over emergency evacuation process, warns Evac+Chair

Lawmakers are being urged to alter legislation as people with disabilities continue to be put at risk by a lack of clarity over where responsibility lies for escaping from a building in an emergency, safety experts and evacuation specialists have warned.

Gerard Wallace, Managing Director of Evac+Chair International

Emergency Evacuation Chair specialist, Evac+Chair International is urging lawmakers to close the legislative gap to encourage more accountability and transparency on the evacuation equipment needed, in order to save lives.

At the same time, it is looking to educate businesses, building managers and those responsible for fire safety on their safety-related duty in emergency situations.

The call has been launched in the wake of discussion around the topic during Business Safety Week 2021, Disability Awareness Day 2021 and Fire Door Safety Week 2021 – all of which are designed to raise awareness on safety in the workplace and those living with disabilities or mobility impairments.

In total, there are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK and more than 4.4 million of them are in work and should be adequately protected in case of an emergency, explains Evac+Chair International.

Currently, fire safety regulations do not specify evacuation systems or equipment for people with disabilities or temporary mobility issues, as a legal requirement in buildings. And while there is a legal responsibility for the person responsible for fire safety to have in place a risk assessment and measures to support the safe evacuation of people from the building, this does not state what should be in place to support people with disabilities.

Now, the company wants to encourage a rethink of the law and is calling on businesses to make sure they have the right risk assessments and measures in place to keep everyone safe in an emergency situation.

Gerard Wallace, Managing Director of Evac+Chair International, said: “It is vital that businesses know their responsibilities and people with disabilities – whether lifelong or temporary – know their rights around safely getting out of a building in an emergency.

“There is great confusion and a  legislative gap and lack of clarity around what business owners and building managers responsible for fire safety need to have in place to properly protect staff, visitors and the public.”

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, businesses must undertake assessments to identify injury and illness risk, taking action to eliminate, or control that risk. For those with more than five employees, results should be recorded, while considering groups particularly at risk such as older, younger, pregnant or disabled employees.

Gerard added: “The emphasis has always been on giving disabled people access into buildings, but little thought and planning is paid on how to support people to get out in an emergency.

“We also see a lack of awareness amongst building owners and managers around their responsibilities for people with temporary disabilities or impairments – such as a broken leg or pregnancy. The fact is, they are responsible and could be liable in a worst-case scenario.

“We need to make sure that everyone, whether able-bodied or not, can escape from a building in an emergency situation.”

Nathan Davies, RoSPA’s Executive Head of Policy and Portfolio, said: The efficiency of an emergency evacuation can be the difference between protecting lives and serious injury or death.

“Therefore, we support any initiative that encourages organisations to put correct measures in place to create workplace environments that are safe for all.”

Lewis Ramsay, Board Member – BAFE Fire Safety Register/former Assistant Chief Officer for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, added: “The BAFE Fire Safety Register believes that risk to life safety can be mitigated in many ways. A safe evacuation strategy for all people is one of these, which can greatly benefit firefighters (and other responders) in an emergency.

“BAFE would welcome greater clarification (and promotion) where responsibilities lie for fire safety and emergency evacuation actions, especially for more vulnerable people. This will aid in getting the appropriate systems and provisions in place for a safer built environment.”

This topic was also a key part of the agenda at a recent IFSEC Global webinar, where we discussed how technology can play a role in supporting fire safety procedures for disabled residents in social housing. You can watch the webinar, here >>

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