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Know your PEEPs

14 July 2021

One absolutely key element of management plans for today’s built environment is to ensure that anyone resident in a given building who has mobility issues can be safely evacuated in the event of an emergency scenario. With this in mind, Gerard Wallace explains the legal framework before outlining Best Practice

BEING PREPARED for an emergency situation is important for any organisation as this will ensure that everyone can be safely evacuated from a building if an emergency should occur. Importantly, additional measures need to be considered and implemented to accommodate those who have a temporary or permanent mobility impairment. Having such measures documented in a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) or a Generic Emergency Evacuation Plan will help to ensure the safety of everyone. 

What does the law say on this particular matter? As outlined in the Regulatory Form (Fire Safety) Order 2005, it’s not the responsibility of the Fire and Rescue Service to facilitate the evacuation of non-domestic premises. Rather, that task falls under the remit of the designated ‘Responsible Person’ (ie the person having control of the building or a degree of control). The focus here is on individuals such as landlords, business owners, employers, facilities managers or risk assessors who must ensure that everyone can be evacuated quickly and safely if an emergency situation demands that to happen.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a Duty of Care to assess any risks that affect the Health and Safety of employees and put in place appropriate procedures to be followed ‘in the event of serious and imminent danger’. The ‘Responsible Person’ must carry out a regular review of the risk of fire at the premises and identify any issues that are uncovered, in the wake of which a plan must then be developed to mitigate these risks. That plan should include the necessary protocols for the evacuation of those with disabilities.

Put simply, it’s not enough for the ‘Responsible Person’ to make certain that the building is accessible. They must also ensure that it can be exited safely by all building occupants during an emergency.

Importance of PEEPs

As stated, in order to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that, in an emergency, all members of staff and visitors on the premises (including both able-bodied and mobility-impaired individuals) can evacuate safely. Any failure to do so could result in criminal prosecution. Should there be a fatality, an employer can be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter.

It’s a fact that 2% of the UK’s working age population becomes disabled every year, while there are approximately ten million disabled people in Great Britain who are covered by the Equality Act 2010. This figure represents around 18% of the population.

The PEEP is used to protect employees who require additional help when evacuating a building due, for example, to lifts being inoperable in emergency situations. It’s part of the legal requirement that employers must provide a safe and effective means of escape for all persons requiring assistance in the event of a fire or other form of emergency. A PEEP should be completed in collaboration with both line managers and/or the Human Resources Department. Local fire wardens may also need to have some input to this.

Before creating a PEEP, the ‘Responsible Person’ should ask what special facilities the building has in place. These might include a pager system (affording a vibrating or text alert if there’s an alarm), evacuation lifts (some are also configured for self-evacuation) and flashing beacons (as well as sounders). It’s also important to be wholly aware of the evacuation routes and fire alarm zones in specific buildings.

Once the PEEP is complete, it’s important that any issues of concern relating to an emergency evacuation are discussed with all key stakeholders, including all mobility-impaired individuals. Ultimately, the PEEP questionnaire will enable individuals who’ve carried out emergency evacuation training to know how to assist the mobility-impaired and lead them to safety should the need arise.

We’ve created a PEEP Guide, which is free to download, to help ensure businesses nationwide have access to emergency procedure plans in case of a safety breach that may involve fire, smoke hazards or even acts of terrorism. Copies of the guide are free of charge and can be downloaded from the Evac+Chair website at www.evacchair.co.uk/news/peep-guide

Evacuating buildings safely

We understand the importance of how best to deal with emergency situations and fire assessments. It’s essential that businesses have emergency evacuation plans in place and trained team members on the premises who know how to use vital emergency evacuation equipment, such as evacuation chairs, to aid the mobility-impaired.

When installing assistive equipment, it’s particularly important that the requirements of the building and the personnel within are taken into consideration when selecting the most suitable product and location. Under the aforementioned Equality Act 2010, a ‘disabled person’ is defined as someone with a physical or mental impairment which has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ effect on their ability to conduct normal daily activities, such as descending stairs unaided.

Equally, there are some medical conditions that, while not qualifying as disabilities, can impede mobility (for example pregnancy or a sporting injury). While such conditions are temporary, it’s vital that these are considered when developing emergency evacuation plans.

Evacuating high-rise buildings can present its own set of challenges, of course, including the distance involved when descending the stairs to exit the building. Selecting the most suitable assistive equipment, along with devising an evacuation plan that considers all of the factors, is imperative when it comes to the success of a given emergency evacuation and the preservation of life.

In addition to specialist evacuation chairs, other types of evacuation products are available on the market. These include slide sheets, rescue mats and  stretchers. When developing an evacuation plan, it’s key that the correct products are chosen to ensure the safest and quickest means of evacuation.

All evacuation aids need to be located at a designated refuge point which must be specified in the building’s evacuation strategy. Each fire exit must accommodate both the able-bodied and mobility-impaired. That being so, all equipment has to be readily available and accessible at the refuge point.

Safe evacuation isn’t just about the purchase of specialist chairs for that purpose. Your chosen manufacturer/supplier should also be focused on customer support, training and maintenance. Evacuation assessments are also extremely useful. We would recommend that such a task is conducted prior to the purchase of an evacuation chair. This will ensure that the correct product I selected to meet the needs of the building and its occupants. Trained consultants can also advise on the best location for evacuation chairs.

City of Bristol College

The City of Bristol College has completely overhauled its fire and Health and Safety systems in the wake of reviewing evacuation procedures in conjunction with ourselves. Stephen Brough initiated the review after joining the multi-site college in the role of health, safety and well-being manager back in 2017. 

The site is used by around 20,000 students and 1,000 members of staff and boasts a mixture of buildings, some of them dating from Victorian times and others from the 1990s. They range from two-to-six storeys in height.

Brough commented: “I was new to The City of Bristol College. The issue of evacuation was being raised by members of staff in learner support teams who had concerns about evacuating those students with learning and physical disabilities safely in the event of an emergency.”

He continued: “The first thing I did was to go on a fire risk assessment course. One of the big misconceptions around evacuation is that it’s the Fire and Rescue Service’s job to make sure everyone’s safely out of the building. It isn’t. It’s the responsibility of the landlord or the manager. The Fire and Rescue Service’s job is to deal with the fire and to stop it from spreading.”

In terms of specific solutions, Brough stated: “I wasn’t sure what I needed to do. There had been specialist Evac+Chair products installed in the buildings where I had previously worked. As the business provides free site surveys, I called to see what help I could enlist. The survey was really useful. It’s not simply about free advice on how to manage evacuations. There are also great tips on safe refuges and policies and procedures as well.”

Thanks to the advice imparted by Evac+Chair, Brough produced a brand new set of policies and procedures for staff and students alike. There are now 28 Evac+Chairs installed on the premises with plans to procure several more. Further to this, ‘Train the Trainer’-focused sessions are being scheduled on site with the manufacturer to instruct assisted learning support staff, student services staff and all management team members involved in evacuation. Safe evacuation – in addition to learning about the chairs and safe refuges and where they’re located – is now a central element of The City of Bristol College’s student induction process.

Safety knowledge

According to Stephen Brough, the training is about so much more than just the evacuation chairs themselves. “It’s also important that people know where they are located and feel confident to use them in an emergency, and also that they know how to keep people calm when the chairs are in use,” he explained.

“We are engaging with the ‘Train the Trainer’ course with a view towards repeating that instruction with a refresher course every six months. In this way, we can make sure that any new staff members and students are familiar with the evacuation chairs on site, what it feels like to sit in and use them and the hugely important role they can play in an emergency.”

It really isn’t just a matter of buying evacuation chairs for the building in a bid to satisfy legal requirements. It’s also about capturing the safety knowledge that comes with the manufacturer’s expertise and experience.

Gerard Wallace is managing director of Evac+Chair International (www.evacchair.co.uk)