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Fire Safety for the Disabled

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The Fire Safety Order requires that the responsible person of a building ensures that everybody can reach safety in the event of a fire. This means that special strategies need to be created to ensure disabled people can be alerted of a fire and escape a building safely.

Who may need additional support?

There may be a number of reasons why people need additional support. Some aspects to consider are:
  • Mobility difficulties – think of any wheelchair users or occupants who struggle with stairs, steps or narrow corridors
  • Visual impairment – some people may have difficulty reading signage or following an escape route
  • Sensory problems – people may be unable to hear or see a standard audio or visual alarm
  • Temporary conditions – anybody with broken limbs, for instance
  • Self-identification – people can identify themselves as being in need of special arrangements
  • Pregnancy – some women in the later stages of pregnancy may require help
  • Learning difficulties – some people may have trouble remembering routes or staying calm in an emergency
If somebody identifies themselves as disabled or in need of additional support, it is crucial that their details are treated with confidentiality.

Create a personal emergency egress plan (PEEP)

Everybody has different abilities, so a one size fits all approach won’t work. Each disabled individual who needs assistance evacuating a building will need a PEEP (personal emergency egress plan). A PEEP is an individual plan, detailing:
  • How they will be alerted of a fire
  • The most suitable evacuation strategy
  • To ensure that all members of staff involved in the emergency evacuation know their roles
  • To make sure the plan fits the needs of the individual
  • To discuss a strategy the individual is comfortable with, and understands
A PEEP should take into account the features of a building, and the individual’s difficulties. If somebody occupies multiple buildings, a PEEP should be developed for each of these.

Who completes a PEEP?

Burnt watchIt’s important that nobody makes assumptions about another person’s ability. So the first step is for the disabled individual will need to complete a PEEP form, giving details of difficulties they have, what they need assistance with and areas where they work. The individual should never feel pressured to be more active than they are comfortable with so that the right level of support can be given. After this, the responsible person will need to make special arrangements and ensure that the disabled individual is aware of the plan. Anybody who is to provide this assistance should also be made aware and provided with training. To protect your company, it is crucial that you keep a copy of all forms filled out.

What training is required?

Allocated staff, building managers and those responsible for conducting PEEPs should receive adequate training. When arranging training, consider:
  • Sensitivity – equality and disability awareness is needed
  • Use of specific tools – evacuation lifts, evacuation chairs, etc
  • What is the plan – building managers need to know evacuation plans, too
  • Communication – how to communicate plans and instructions safely and clearly
  • Safe assistance – moving, lifting and handling techniques
  • Specific courses – send fire wardens and staff on specific courses
 

Practicing escape routes

As with anybody, it is important that disabled people, and those assistant them are able to rehearse their escape route. Generally speaking, this should happen every 6 months, regardless of the frequency of standard fire drills. However, sometimes this can put disabled people at unnecessary risk. It can be beneficial to conduct a simulate carry-downs to reduce the risk of injury. It’s beneficial if everybody involved in the evacuation can take part, so that the drill is realistic and gives everybody the chance to rehearse the emergency escape.

Alerting

Often, deaf and/or blind people working alongside hearing colleagues will be able to recognise that an alarm is sounding by observing the actions of their colleague. However, if somebody with audio-visual difficulties is working along, they will need specialist equipment. There are many options available. For instance, handheld pagers exist that will vibrate if an alarm is detected. There are also visual indicators, such as flashing lights.

Buddy system

Many companies have a buddying system. This is where people requiring assistance are assigned a buddy who will escort them to the building’s exit when an evacuation is taking place. This is particularly useful for people with audio-visual difficulties who may struggle to find their own way. Colleagues can often volunteer to be a buddy – you should keep a record of who is buddying up with whom, and what level of training they have received.

Help with stairs

The use of lifts is normally banned if a fire occurs. However, if somebody has difficulty using stairs, it may be necessary to use specialist evacuation lifts, which have features that may them safe to use if a fire occurs. However, the Fire and Rescue Service can have overriding use of these lifts, so they can only be used as part of an evacuation route in the early stages of a fire. An alternative to evacuation lifts is an evacuation chair. Disabled people can make their way to the evacuation chair and wait for assistance. Where an evacuation lift is not present, it may be necessary to state a limit to define a maximum floor level that can be visited by a disabled person.

Refuge points

Refuge points are protected spaces where disabled people can wait, either for help, or if they’re becoming tired. They can provide relative protection from fire and smoke. Refuge points should be incorporated into the exit route, and should be large enough to allow a large flow of people to pass the area when an evacuation is taking place. Suitable places include the top of stairways, in lobbies or corridors.

Phased evacuation

Phased evacuation is where different parts of a building are evacuated at different times. Some buildings have systems of fire-resisting compartments. In these buildings it is possible for disabled people to evacuate horizontally to another compartment in the building and await assistance. This can limit the amount of stairs that need to be tackled and make the evacuation faster.

What about disabled visitors?

It is important that evacuation plans are communicated effectively to site visitors, too. It is important that you, and all relevant people, are aware of the special requirements of site visitors. It’s equally important that visitors know the escape route and where they can wait for assistance. Photo credit: Department for Communities and Local Government via photopin cc
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