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The Secret Risk Assessor

10 March 2017

The Secret Risk Assessor takes aim at companies who are failing to put suitable evacuation plans in place and shares some of the poorer excuses he’s heard for not doing so.

I LOSE count of the amount of times that while I’m undertaking a fire risk assessment the responsible person, or nominated person escorting me around says to me “our plan is to take disabled persons to point A and leave them there for the fire and rescue services to get them.” 

Another comment I hear is “we have a stay put policy for those with disabilities, we tell them to close the door and wait by the window for help as it is a thirty minute door.” This is, of course, not acceptable and the responsible person is required to have a plan for the evacuation of all of their building users that does not rely on the intervention of the fire and rescue services.

As we all know, step two of your fire risk assessment, as set out in the fire safety guides produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, is to identify people at significant risk should a fire occur. Your fire risk assessment should clearly make reference to types of people identified, and also those you have discounted. It should be noted that it’s not just staff who should be considered, but also regular visitors to the building.

In the event of a public access building then generic plans should be in place for any types of building that can be foreseen as being present. A non-exhaustive list of potential types of people at significant risk is highlighted below:

  • Mobility impaired or injured;
  • Visually or hearing impaired;
  • Those with cognitive or mental health issues, including dementia;
  • Obese building users;
  • The elderly and young children;
  • Pregnant women;
  • Those for who English is not their first language;
  • Anyone under the influence of drink or drugs, including medicinal drugs such as sleeping pills;
  • Anyone asleep or in a state of undress or partial dress;
  • Anybody unfamiliar with the building;
  • Those working in a noisy environment who may not hear the alarm; And
  • Lone workers

Once your risk assessment has identified the people at significant risk there are two key pieces of documentation that should be in place, and available for you to review. The emphasis in my last sentence was ‘should’, be prepared to offer advice and guidance when you discover they have not been completed.

For all permanent or regular building users a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) should be completed. This will clearly identify the support that will be given to the person to ensure their safe evacuation in the event of a fire. For public access buildings such as hotels, shopping centres of stadiums a generic emergency evacuation plan (GEEP) is required. 

As I mentioned earlier, simply leaving the person for the fire and rescue service is not an option in the majority of cases. In extreme scenario us the fire and rescue service will give permission for a minimal amount of people to stay put, however this will need to be documented and a letter from the fire and rescue service confirming this fact should be placed alongside the fire risk assessment. I have been told on numerous occasions by the responsible person that the fire and rescue service are happy for people to be left in a burning building, however I have only once seen this confirmed in writing!

While undertaking and documenting the PEEPs and GEEPs there are a number of management steps that can be undertaken, which will ensure the safety of people at significant risk. 

Consideration should be given to the physical location of the people at significant risk.  I have seen hotels with disabled rooms on the upper floors with no evacuation plan, hospitals with theatres in basements with no possible exit route that does not include using stairs. I’ve visited children's crèches on upper floors of multi-storey buildings, which would probably result in all parents going against the flow of traffic to find their children in the event of the fire alarm activating. All of these issues should have been addressed at the design stage, but now during your risk assessment you should look at any realistic opportunities to relocate areas to a more suitable location.

It is highly likely that any evacuation plan that you put into place will rely heavily on some degree of staff involvement, as such when the PEEP or GEEP is developed all staff that form part of the plan should be involved. Staff training is vital and the fire risk assessor should look for evidence that regular drills are undertaken and incorporate the people at significant risk.  I have encountered buildings where the fire drills are always carried out “when people with disabilities are off because it’s easier that way!”

In the June issue of FSM, I will continue looking at evacuation techniques and the responsibilities of risk assessors.

The Secret Risk Assessor is a well-known risk assessor in the fire sector. They have asked for their name to be withheld so they can speak freely about common failings they see in buildings across the UK.