A Fire Escape Guide for Wheelchair Users
Laws and Regulations
Under current fire safety legislation (the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order, 2005) it is the responsibility of the person in charge of the commercial building – whether that’s the owner, manager or landlord – to provide, and regularly update, a comprehensive fire risk assessment.
This should include a complete emergency evacuation plan that details how everyone within the building would safely and efficiently escape in the event of a fire, including disabled people or people who may be using a wheelchair.
The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) reinforces the Fire Safety Order by requiring all businesses and service providers to take responsibility for any necessary fire evacuations and ensure everyone within the building, including disabled people, can leave safely.
Additionally, the Disability Equality Duty states that commercial environments should “proactively promote” the equality of disabled people, and this includes making sure they do not face discrimination by not being provided with a safe, and complete, evacuation plan.
Planning an Evacuation Procedure
When making an evacuation plan for wheelchair users, there a number of issues which must be considered:
- If possible, identify the number of disabled people within your environment and their specific location within the building.
- Implement Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (see below).
- The evacuation plan should not rely on the Fire and Rescue Services to be carried out effectively.
- Consider the characteristics of the building and plan evacuations accordingly.
- Undertake staff training.
- Install all necessary fire safety equipment which will assist a successful evacuation – including fire alarms, fire safety signs and emergency lighting.
- Determine exactly what will happen if the fire alarm goes off and make sure everyone who works within your building is aware of these plans.
Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP)
When planning an evacuation for someone with a disability, they are commonly referred to as a PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan). The PEEP is a personal plan which is developed to aid the safe evacuation of the named individual in the event of an emergency.
It should explain the method of evacuation, taking into account the person’s location, individual requirements (such as need for assistance) and any ‘hidden impairments’ such as heart conditions or epilepsy.
If a need for assistance is highlighted, it is then the responsibility of the building’s ‘responsible person’ to ensure this is arranged and carried out in an evacuation. Additionally, if any specialist fire safety training is necessary – such as evacuation chair training – it is their responsibility to make sure this is conducted.
Techniques for Evacuation
Lifts are usually prohibited during an emergency evacuation, which means alternative methods must be arranged for transporting wheelchair users safely out of the building. This can involve using specific evacuation lifts, moving wheelchairs users horizontally to another fire compartment within the building, using evacuation chairs or employing ‘carry-down’ procedures, which involve carrying someone in a wheelchair up or down a set of stairs.
Additionally, refuge areas should be designated. These areas should provide individuals with a place of relative safety before being assisted to a final exit point. Refuge points are usually areas such as lobbies, corridors or stairways which can provide the individual with protection from fire and smoke.
The use of all of these techniques should be thoroughly considered prior to an evacuation, especially with the wheelchair user themselves, in order to determine their preferred method of evacuation, and all necessary training should be carried out.
Evacuation Procedure Checklist for Individual Wheelchair Users
As the ‘responsible person’ within a commercial environment, you must supply detailed evacuation instructions to all your staff. This includes wheelchair users who should receive the following checklist:
- On activation of the alarm, stop what you are doing and collect anything which may be required in an evacuation (eg. evacuation chair).
- As detailed in your PEEP, remain at your individual work station if you require assistance.
- Once your assistance has arrived, move calmly to your designated refuge point.
- Remain at your refuge point until it is safe to continue with your evacuation.
- Once the area is clear, and with the support of any required assistance, make your way to final exit of the property.
- Once outside, report your presence to the person in charge of the evacuation.
- Remain outside and do not re-enter the building unless you are told it is safe to do so.