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Home>Fire>Risk Assessment>Lawmakers urged to close legislative gap and “provide better protection” for disabled

Lawmakers urged to close legislative gap and “provide better protection” for disabled

18 October 2021

INDIVIDUALS WITH disabilities are being put at risk by the lack of clarity over where responsibility lies for escaping from a building in an emergency. That’s the view of safety expert and evacuation solutions specialist Evac+Chair International. That being so, the business is urging lawmakers to close the legislative gap and encourage more accountability and transparency on the evacuation equipment needed in order to save lives.

At the same time, the company is looking to educate businesses, building managers and those responsible for fire safety on their safety-related duties when it comes to emergency situations.

Evac+Chair International has put forward its point of view in the wake of discussions around the topic that took place during Business Safety Week 2021, Disability Awareness Day 2021 and Fire Door Safety Week 2021, all of which are specifically designed to raise awareness of safety in the workplace and how that impacts those living with disabilities or mobility impairments.

In total, there are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, with upwards of 4.4 million of them currently in employment. This cohort should be adequately protected at all times in case of an emergency scenario.

Currently, fire safety regulations do not specify evacuation systems or equipment for people with disabilities or temporary mobility issues as a legal requirement in buildings. While there’s a legal duty placed upon the ‘Responsible Person’ to have a risk assessment in place and measures to support the safe evacuation of individuals from a given building, there’s no statement around what safeguards should be in place to support people with disabilities.

In essence, Birmingham-based Evac+Chair International wants to see a rethink when it comes to the law and is calling on businesses to make sure they have the right risk assessments and measures in place.

Responsibilities and rights

Gerard Wallace (pictured), managing director of Evac+Chair International, told Fire Safety Matters: “It’s vital that businesses know their responsibilities and that those people with disabilities, whether lifelong or temporary in nature, know their rights around safely exiting a building in an emergency.”

Wallace continued: “There’s great confusion and a legislative gap, not to mention a lack of clarity, around what measures and solutions business owners and building managers responsible for fire safety need to have in place to properly protect staff, visitors and members of the public alike.”

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, businesses must undertake assessments to identify injury and illness risk, taking action to eliminate or otherwise control that risk. For those businesses with more than five employees, the results of any such assessments should be recorded, while paying close attention to groups particularly at risk such as older, younger, pregnant or disabled employees.

Wallace went on to state: “The emphasis has always been on giving disabled people access to buildings, but little thought and planning is given to support them when the time comes to exit in an emergency. We also see a lack of awareness among building owners and managers around their responsibilities for those people with temporary disabilities or impairments, such as a broken leg or if they’re pregnant. The fact is that they are responsible and could be liable in a worse case scenario. We need to make sure that everyone, whether able-bodied or not, can escape from a building in an emergency situation.”

Highlighting the issue

Evac+Chair International is joining forces with other businesses, national advocacy groups and charities to highlight the issue to Government. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and BAFE have already shown their support for this latest campaign move.

Nathan Davies, RoSPA’s executive head of policy and portfolio, observed: “The efficiency of an emergency evacuation can be the difference between protecting lives and serious injury or death. We fully support any initiative that encourages organisations to put correct measures in place in order to create workplace environments that are safe for all.”

Lewis Ramsay, Board member at BAFE and former assistant chief fire officer for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said: “BAFE believes that the risk to life safety can be mitigated in many ways. A safe evacuation strategy for all people is one of them and can greatly benefit firefighters, as well as other responders, in an emergency. BAFE would welcome greater clarification about – and the promotion of – where responsibilities lie for fire safety and emergency evacuation, especially for more vulnerable people. This will help to ensure the appropriate systems and provisions are in place for a safer built environment.”