Evacuation Chairs... 


Do we need Evacuation chairs?

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) came into force in October 2006 and included a requirement to take special note of fire safety relating to vulnerable groups such as the disabled. Despite the fact that this legislation has now been with us for over two years, it remains surprising that many managers are still unsure of their exact duties.

There are now 13 guidance booklets that assist managers in how to carry out fire risk assessments, produce Emergency plans and implement adequate and effective fire safety measures. This guidance includes the publication of a booklet specifically covering "Means of Escape for Disabled People". View publication...

Many individuals however remain unaware both of the specific guidance available and how it might apply to their business. At a recent training event, the question was asked "Do we need evacuation chairs in our building?". The simple answer "What does your fire risk assessment say?" would have been an easy get out, but instead the question was posed back to the small group of attendees. The answers were varied as well as a bit worrying!

"We do not need disabled procedures as we never have disabled visitors and do not have disabled staff!"

"We were told you can leave disabled persons in the refuges in the staircases and let the fire brigade get them out!!"

"We have skid chairs but no-one likes getting in them or using them!"

"We have a fire lift and evacuate disabled persons in them." (further investigation revealed it was a fire fighting lift which grounded when the alarm operated, but the manager was unaware of how to use the firefighters switch nor the need to liaise with the fire service if opting for this method)

These worrying answers demonstrate a clear lack of knowledge of not only the FSO and fire safety measures, but also issues such as the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and the Disability Equality Duty (DED, applicable to public bodies).

So how should a fire safety manager or nominated person answer the question posed above? Well it really does depend on the type of building, the activities that are carried out and the findings of your Fire Risk Assessment! Every premises will have different risks and hazards, but we can still suggest that it is best for companies to err on the side of caution and provide themselves with the equipment needed to deal with any emergencies that arise.

In early 2008, the Fire Service Safety Partnership (FSSP), part of the commercial trading arm of the Essex Fire Authority took an unusual Fire Service step and began selling a range of evacuation chairs. Unusual? Well, Fire Services rarely endorse products or companies, but on this occasion the FSSP considered the products to be well engineered, easy to use and, most importantly, extremely effective ways of getting disabled persons quickly and safely out of the premises in the event of a fire.

Evacuation chairs are an excellent tool for evacuating disabled or less mobile occupants from a building, but if this method is adopted it must be accompanied by a robust procedure that includes:

  • Sufficient equipment for all persons requiring evacuation - multi use of equipment that involves re-entry should be avoided wherever possible as this may expose marshals and buddies to additional risk.
  • Regular training for those that will operate the equipment. This is best carried out without involving the disabled person in case transferring to the equipment causes an injury. Evacuating the disabled person should be limited to real evacuations and fire drills.
  • A full assessment of the individual to ensure that the equipment is suitable for their needs should be undertaken. This will be part of the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEPs) process carried out for the individual. Standard PEEPs should also be developed for occasional visitors.
  • A thorough and well practised communications procedure to ensure that buddies and users meet disabled persons in suitable pre-arranged refuges. They will also need to be familiar with all locations where evacuation chairs are kept.
  • That any disabled evacuation / evacuation chair policy is not stand alone but is part of a full system of escape and accounting procedure.

The government guidance covers a range of disabled evacuation and accounting issues for many types of disability. Readers should consider that new advances in escape hardware can bring new ways to help managers bring about the reasonable adjustments needed under FSO, DDA and DED.

When managers carry out cost benefit analysis for evacuation chairs, they may consider that some of the equipment now available could help them address Access issues, as well as helping to promote an inclusive workplace ethos. Evacuation chairs may also assist with manual handling issues within their buildings. These additional benefits are likely to be used more often than the equipments primary use.

Advanced Fire Technologies believe that the benefits of such equipment can clearly be demonstrated to outweigh any associated costs. Managers should pay due regard to the health and safety implications for all staff and visitors of not providing such equipment, as well as giving consideration to potential litigation and the dignity issues of carrying down a disabled person manually. Notwithstanding the manual handling issues of this method and the risk of personal injury, clearly evacuation of more than one person would cause logistical problems and may slow down the evacuation of other persons who have not yet left the building. All of these problems are potentially resolved by the proper use of evacuation equipment.