A Fire Escape Guide for People with Cognitive Disabilities
Laws and Regulations
According to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, 2005, if you own or manage a commercial property, you have a legal obligation to protect the people within it from the threat of fire. This means undertaking comprehensive fire risk assessments and then removing or reducing any potential fire hazards identified within your environment.
Another key part of a risk assessment is to make complete fire evacuation plans should an emergency ever arise, making sure everyone within your building can quickly and safely exit. This includes taking individual disabilities into account as reinforced by the Disability Equality Duty which states that disabled people should “not face discrimination” by not receiving an evacuation plan.
In addition, the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) requires employers to “take responsibility for ensuring that all people, including disabled people, can leave the building they control safely in the event of a fire”.
Planning an Evacuation Procedure
If you are planning an evacuation procedure for someone with a cognitive disability, the first thing to consider is levels of perception and orientation. Cognitive disabilities are often characterised by decreased function of memory, attention and visual comprehension. This means many people with a cognitive disability have trouble comprehending an emergency situation and, as such, the escape procedures which should be undertaken.
However, it also important to remember that many cognitive disabilities are difficult to control and manage, meaning nothing should be assumed and, instead, escape procedures should be flexible. For example, people with autism or Asperger’s may be reluctant to take an unknown escape route in the event of an evacuation, meaning it is vital to understand the possible need for choice and an alternative route or change of direction.
Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP)
A PEEP, or Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan, is the technical name given to an escape plan that has been tailored to the individual needs of someone with a disability. It involves assessing the needs and specific requirements of the individual, including the condition they suffer with and to what extent this could affect an evacuation.
A PEEP for someone suffering with a cognitive disability should focus on orientation information and fire instructions, such as making sure escape routes are clearly marked and regularly practiced, with the help of DVD demonstration if necessary. You should also consider mobility and speed when tailoring a PEEP for someone with a cognitive disability, making sure efforts have been made to allow them to evacuate as safely and efficiently as possible.
Evacuation Procedure Checklist for Hearing Impaired People
When writing a PEEP for someone with a cognitive disability, the following information should be obtained and recorded:
- What type of alarm system is used?
- Are escape routes clearly marked?
- Is there sufficient orientation information?
- Are fire instructions provided in various accessible formats?
- Do the escape stairs feature step edge markings?
- Are there handrails on the escape stairs?
- Is it likely there will be a need for two-speed traffic on the stairs? If so, is the staircase wide enough to accommodate this?
- Are risers closed?
You should then ask the named individual the following questions:
- Do you ever work alone in the building?
- Do you ever work out of hours?
- Do you know what the alarm system sounds like?
- When the alarm is sounded, do you know where to go?
- Do you work as part of a team or in a group office environment?
- Are you likely to move around the building?
- Can you read and understand the escape instructions? If not, what format do you need them in?