Evacuation: Failure to prepare is preparing to fail

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Evac+Chair discusses the regulatory requirements and the critical role of proper evacuation strategies in compliance and safety

Established for over 40 years, Evac+Chair are the original manufacturer and global leader in the design and development of evacuation chairs.

Manufactured in the UK and supported by a team of experts, they are the perfect partner to support any organisation and their evacuation strategy.

Disaster can strike at any time without warning and being prepared to evacuate everyone, will save and protect lives.

Having an up-to-date evacuation plan, which has been tested and the correct evacuation equipment installed, will ensure everyone is evacuated effectively.

With 16 million disabled people living in the UK and more than 4.8 million in employment, additional measures must be considered and implemented in order to accommodate their needs.

An independent study ‘Risky Business’ conducted by Evac+Chair in 2023 with almost 500 SME business decision makers, concluded that: 1 in 10 businesses are either not prepared at all, or not sure they are prepared to evacuate disabled or mobility impaired members of staff.

This lack of unpreparedness is putting people lives at risk and those responsible are not complying with their legal obligations.

The legal landscape

It is a common misconception that the Fire Service are responsible for the evacuation of non-domestic premises.

As stipulated in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, amended by The Fire Safety Act in 2021, it is the designated ‘responsible person’ (the person having control of the building, or a degree of control, like landlords and business owners) who are accountable.

The responsible person must ensure the appropriate measures are in place, so that everyone can be evacuated quickly and safely in an emergency.

In addition, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 requires every employer “to protect all workers from the risk of injury or harm at work, so far as reasonably practicable.”

The Management of the Health & Safety Regulations 1999, require employers to make effective arrangements for safely evacuating all employees in an emergency.

Therefore, businesses must undertake regular assessments to identify any injury or illness risk and take the necessary action to eliminate or control that risk.

This includes ensuring evacuation plans have the appropriate equipment and trained staff, to support the mobility impaired during an evacuation.

Put simply, it is not enough for your building to just be accessible – you must ensure it can be exited safely by all occupants in an emergency.

It is no surprise that more than 68% of respondents to the Evac+Chair independent study think that fire safety legislation, does not go far enough.

Importance of PEEPs and GEEPs

Whilst fires are the most obvious need for an emergency evacuation the climate crisis is making flooding and extreme weather the norm, coupled with energy shortages, security breaches, terrorism and electrical faults, the likelihood of emergency evacuations is increasing.

Therefore, the need for being prepared is more prevalent than ever.

With evidence of individuals shying away from disclosing access concerns, and 4.8 million disabled people in employment, organisations must adopt a more inclusive approach.

A study by Samsung concluded, almost half (43%) of disabled people have avoided sharing information about their health or disability due to the perceived impact on their career, while 41% feel they will be judged and made to feel like an outsider.

Having an evacuation plan, which is tried and regularly tested, will ensure everyone is prepared for any eventuality, included in the plan should be a PEEP or a GEEP.

A PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan) is tailormade to secure the safety of a specific person in the event of an emergency evacuation.

It must be devised with the individual, providing them with the opportunity to be transparent and clear about their needs, enabling a holistic and tailormade method of evacuation.

A GEEP (Generic Emergency Evacuation Plan) is a catch-all evacuation plan for buildings used by the public or places of work, with a transient workforce.

These are focused on visitors to a building who may face access barriers and may not be able to evacuate a building unaided.

Gerard Wallace, Managing Director at Evac+Chair International, says: “Evac+Chair understands the importance of emergency situations and fire assessments.

“It is essential that businesses have emergency evacuation plans in place alongside selected team members who have been trained to use vital emergency evacuation equipment, such as evacuation chairs, to aid the mobility impaired.”

Using the necessary equipment to evacuate buildings safely

When installing evacuation equipment, such as Evac+Chair’s, it is vital the requirements of the building and its personnel are considered.

Under the 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 do normal daily activities such as descending stairs unaided.

Independently tested by Greenwich University, an Evac+Chair was proven to be the safest and fastest means of evacuation.

There are a wide range of other evacuation solutions which include evacuation sheets and mats.

However, these are more suitable when evacuating from hospital and care homes.

All evacuation aids need to be stored in a designated refuge point within a building and is specified in the buildings’ fire strategy.

Each fire exit must accommodate the able-bodied and mobility-impaired therefore all equipment must be readily available and accessible.

Operating nationwide, Evac+Chair’s team of specialists can assess your building and personnel requirements and advise the most suitable Evac+Chair, its location and any supporting accessories.

This is a free no obligation service, that is recommended prior to purchase to ensure you have the correct evacuation equipment.

The purchase on an Evac+Chair is just the beginning of the journey to safe evacuation.

Evac+Chair offers training courses designed to instil confidence through interactive learning and practical hands-on training.

Providing delegates with the necessary skills to operate an Evac+Chair and therefore giving organisations the reassurance that in an emergency, everyone can be evacuated safely.

As a Class 1 Medical Device an Evac+Chair must be serviced on annual basis to ensure it remains fully operational throughout its lifetime, this requirement is included within the PUWER regulation (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations – UK only).

To help ensure you meet this obligation, Evac+Chair have a dedicated team, of service engineers and offer 1, 3 or 5 year contracts.

Working in partnership with their customers, Evac+Chair’s mission is to ensure all buildings and personnel are evacuation ready, providing a safer and more inclusive world.

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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