Make a quick exit
20 March 2020
Evac+Chair examines the importance of education and training when it comes to emergency evacuation
Emergencies – such as fire or extreme weather – can happen at any time. As an employer, landlord, building owner, facilities manager or health and safety manager, it is your legal responsibility to create a safe environment for your employees, building occupants and any visitors. A big part of this is ensuring everyone within your building understands their route to safe evacuation in the event of an emergency.
Since the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005), the ‘responsible person’ for any non-domestic building or premises is required to carry out a regular fire risk assessment and implement any measures to improve safety and reduce fire risk. They are responsible for identifying any persons at risk, such as those with mobility, visual or hearing impairments and ensuring the appropriate processes are in place to safeguard their wellbeing.
The Fire Safety Order also stipulates that those responsible must ensure all employees have sufficient knowledge of the emergency procedures. This includes organising training to enable them to act on this knowledge quickly, efficiently and safely should an emergency occur.
Growing importance – regulations, accessibility and high-rises
The regulations surrounding building safety are set to tighten. Following the devastating Grenfell fire in 2017 and Hackitt’s subsequent, Independent Review of Building Regulations of Fire Safety(1), the government published its proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system – Building a Safer Future (2). Feedback on the proposals is now being analysed, with a document outlining the outcome of the reviews set to be published soon.
As we wait for regulatory reform, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is looking to quickly appoint a new regulator. The new regulator will be run solely by the HSE (3) and will be responsible for implementing and enforcing the new changes.
However, in the absence of clear progress towards the implementation of new regulations, the private sector has introduced a new fire safety certificate for the external walls of high-rise apartments, which are over six-storeys tall (4). Although not a legal requirement, the certificate is intended to help ensure building safety for occupants and ultimately, enable the high-rise property market to function properly amid valuers’ fire safety worries.
The proposed changes and the implementation of new regulations only heighten the need for those responsible to dedicate time to careful planning, education and training to ensure every occupant has a clear means of safe evacuation.
Another factor influencing the growing importance of education surrounding evacuation procedures is the improved accessibility of public buildings and workplaces across the UK.
Since the introduction of the Equalities Act (2010), workplaces and facilities – old and new – are continuing to adapt to improve their accessibility for people of all abilities. This means more people with mobility impairments now have greater levels of access to high-rise buildings and the importance of planning and training for their safe evacuation cannot be understated.
When it comes to implementing effective evacuation procedures, more careful planning is required for occupants with disabilities. Often, they will need someone to assist with their safe evacuation and they need to be trained to ensure they fully understand their responsibility when an emergency situation arises.
A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) should be devised for any person who requires support to evacuate a building safely. A PEEP should detail the type of assistance and any equipment required, and details of where this equipment can be found as well as the instructions for use. In order to be effective, these plans must be clearly communicated and tested – with both the person they’re designed for and the people required to help.
The trend for high-rise buildings throughout the UK continues to grow, with the proliferation of cranes across our city skylines that is testament to the increasing demand for residential and commercial buildings.
This trend is another factor which influences the growing need for more training to safeguard effective evacuation processes and techniques. Taller buildings are not designed with the intention of rapid mass exit, which can lead to bottlenecks on narrow stairwells. This will only be avoided if emergency evacuation is carefully planned and all processes and procedures are clearly communicated to building occupants. This will ensure they have an understanding of their route to a quick, effective and, ultimately, safe evacuation.
What difference does training make?
Fundamentally, training and regular evacuation drills ensure your evacuation procedures are effective as possible when it comes to a real emergency.
Evacuation training highlights any flaws within your processes and plans. This insight is invaluable. If you’re aware of any shortfalls, you can make the appropriate adjustments, ensuring your evacuation plans remain as effective as possible.
Investing in evacuation equipment will have little effect if no one is aware of the equipment, where to find it and when or how to use it. Similarly, dedicating time to planning your emergency procedures will show little reward if they’re not communicated clearly.
If you’re relying on someone to assist another’s safe evacuation, it’s crucial you’re preparing them with the knowledge of the procedures they need to follow. This will ensure they fully understand their responsibilities and are able to act on these quickly in an emergency situation.
Case study – City of Bristol College
City of Bristol College recently overhauled its fire and health and safety systems following a review of its evacuation procedures with Evac+Chair.
The review was initiated by Stephen Brough after he joined the multi-site college as the health, safety and well-being manager. The site is used by approximately 20,000 students and 1,000 employees, comprising a mix of buildings, ranging from two to six storeys.
“I was new to the college and the issue of evacuation was raised by staff in learner support teams who had concerns about getting students with learning and physical disabilities safely out of buildings in the event of an emergency,” explained Stephen.
“The first thing I did was go on a fire risk assessment course. One of the big misconceptions around evacuation is that it is the fire brigade’s job to get everyone safely out of the building, it isn’t. It is the responsibility of staff, the landlord or the manager. The fire service’s only job is to deal with the fire and to stop it spreading.
“Therefore, I knew that the issue I had to tackle was getting people safely out of the buildings. I wasn’t sure what I needed to do but there had been Evac+Chairs installed in the buildings I had previously worked in.
“As Evac+Chair provides free site surveys, I called them to see how they could help. The survey was really useful. They don’t just give you free advice on how to manage evacuations, they give advice about safe refuges, policies and procedures as well.
“Thanks to the advice we got from Evac+Chair, we have produced a brand-new set of policies and procedures for staff and for students.”
The college currently has 28 chairs installed across its premises. It is also scheduling ‘train the trainer’ sessions on site with Evac+Chair to ensure the assisted learning support team, the student services team and all management teams involved in evacuation are sufficiently prepared should an emergency situation arise.
“The Evac+Chairs are actually a really clever bit of kit and they go down stairs easily, but the training is about so much more. It is important that people know where they are located and feel confident to use them in an emergency and know how to keep people calm when they are in use,” continues Stephen.
“We are doing a train the trainer course so that we can repeat the training with an internal refresher course every six months and make sure that any new staff and students are familiar with evacuation chairs, what it feels like to sit in and use them, and the role they play in an emergency.”
What should you consider when planning education and training?
Here are four key considerations when looking to implement training for emergency evacuation:
1. Who needs it?
It’s important to identify who within your building will need additional training or education. It is essential that all team members who are responsible for implementing your emergency procedures in an emergency receive training. Any training or education should be documented and clearly communicated with everyone else within your building.
2. How often do you need it?
Engage with your team, find out how frequently they feel they need to practice evacuation procedures in order to be confident in carrying them out should an emergency occur. It’s recommended you retrain those responsible every six months; however, this may vary depending on your building and its purpose.
3. Do you have a backup plan?
Having a contingency plan is essential. If those responsible are on annual leave or absent in the event of an emergency, who will take on their role? You should ensure your contingency team has also received training so they are prepared to take on the responsibility and support safe evacuation when required.
4. How frequently will you review your plans?
Finally, think about how often you will review your education and training procedures. To keep these as effective as possible, they should be reviewed in line with your evacuation procedures and any changes should be clearly communicated to every occupant within your building.