Employers have a number of legal responsibilities when it comes to ensuring the safety of their staff and visitors in the event of a fire. These are mainly spelled out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which includes a provision that regular fire risk assessments should be carried out at a premises.
Fire risk assessments need to meet a number of goals. These are:
- To identify fire hazards in the workplace
- To identify people at risk
- To evaluate, remove or reduce those risks
- To record any findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide any necessary staff training
- To review and update the assessment regularly
Part of the fourth goal – preparing an emergency plan – is of particular interest here, as special provisions are likely to be necessary to ensure the safety of wheelchair users. After all, should an evacuation be necessary in a fire emergency, disabled workers and visitors need to be able to get out quickly and safely the same as everyone else.
What are the legal requirements?
The legal framework ensuring that appropriate means of escape for disabled people are provided is covered by both the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA).
What this all means in practice is that should you as an employer not provide safe means of escape for disabled people in the event of an emergency, you may be open to charges of discrimination along with a failure to comply with fire safety legislation.
As a result, part of the fire risk assessment should be developing an individual plan for the safe evacuation of staff and regular visitors with a disability. Such a plan is referred to as a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP).
Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP)
A PEEP is a detailed plan which covers how a named individual should be evacuated in the event of an emergency such as a fire, taking into account such things as where in the building they are located and their individual and specific requirements as to whether they are likely to need assistance.
It should be noted that some wheelchair users are capable of independent movement when absolutely required, as opposed to what they could reasonably be expected to manage in everyday situations. When drawing up a PEEP, questions need to be tactfully asked to establish whether this applies to them and whether self-evacuation in an emergency would be appropriate, as they might prefer to take responsibility for their own safety rather than relying on others. However, this needs to apply to genuine emergencies only – fire drills should not require the disabled person to do anything outside of what they can manage in everyday situations.
If assistance is required, it is the responsibility of the Responsible Person to ensure sufficient staff are trained so that it will always be available in an emergency.
Means of escape for disabled people
While disabled access has become a key part of the design process for new buildings, the same level of attention has not always been given to providing an equal level of egress. That has meant many buildings do not have a fast and easy means of getting out for wheelchair users.
Normal passenger lifts should not be used during a fire emergency, so there need to be alternative means of safely getting a wheelchair user out – this could include options such as:
- Carry-down procedures
- Evacuation or firefighters’ lifts
- Horizontal evacuation to another fire compartment
Again, the wheelchair user should be fully consulted when drawing up the plan to ensure that their preferred method of evacuation is used where possible.
Useful guidance on this matter is given in a government supplement to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, Fire Safety Risk Assessment: Means of Escape for Disabled People, while further recommendations are contained within BS 8300-2:2018 regarding the design of accessible and inclusive built environments.
At Asco, we provide comprehensive fire risk assessments for businesses of all sizes and across all sectors in and around Edinburgh, Glasgow and Midlothian. That includes helping to prepare effective Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans where required and providing all training to ensure that your legal responsibilities can be met.