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Exclusive: An alternative evacuation option


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Alison Hayward, Director at 3ET, looks at what measures should be put into place to ensure everyone can be evacuated safely in an emergency

Being able to evacuate a building quickly and safely is an integral part of any fire safety strategy. 

Indeed, those who neglect to put proper evacuation measures into place can be found guilty of failing to provide a duty of care and face significant fines and even imprisonment. So, what constitutes a ‘proper evacuation measure’ and how do organisations go about ensuring they comply?  

The requirement 

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (England and Wales), the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 and the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 state that commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises must appoint a ‘responsible person’ who is required to ensure the safe evacuation of the premises in the event of danger or an emergency.   

This Responsible Person, or a person acting on their behalf, is required to carry out certain fire safety duties which include ensuring the general fire precautions are satisfactory, demonstrating they can evacuate all persons without the assistance of an external service and conducting a fire risk assessment. 

An important part of this risk assessment under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010 is to consider anyone with mobility or serious illness issues who would be unable to exit the building in an emergency. This includes able-bodied people with temporary changes in mobility, for example, a broken ankle or leg, or anything that might prevent them from evacuating quickly and safely, such as pregnancy or breathing difficulties. Their needs should be identified and a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) or a General Emergency Evacuation Plan (GEEP) devised. 

In the UK today, 7.6 million people between the ages of 16 and 64 have some form of disability such as the above, equating to approximately 1 in 8 people. This makes it highly likely that, in the event of an emergency, someone in the building will require additional assistance and it’s vital that the equipment and planning is in place to manage the process safely and efficiently.  

1-ISJ- Exclusive: An alternative evacuation option

Planning an evacuation 

The evacuation plan should be specific to the premises and explain the method of evacuation, including details of escape routes, the evacuation equipment available and those persons involved in making it happen, to ensure everyone on the premises knows their role in an emergency.  

According to, 54% of people in the UK wouldn’t know what to do in the event of a fire, so the importance of disseminating this information throughout an organisation cannot be emphasised enough and the details should be re-examined and refreshed regularly.  

Employees should also undergo practical training in the use and operation of vital emergency evacuation equipment.  

Choose the right equipment 

Equipment in this case traditionally means evacuation chairs, also known as emergency chairs. These specially-designed chairs have tracks that attach to the stairs to create friction, slowing down the descent and allowing an individual to be carefully lowered down stairs. Once on the ground the chair can be used as a wheelchair to aid further evacuation.  

These specially-designed chairs have tracks that attach to the stairs to create friction, slowing down the descent and allowing an individual to be carefully lowered down stairs.

Generally designed to be used by a single person, in reality it’s common for extra operatives to be required, especially if a heavier person is being evacuated or multiple flights of stairs are involved.  Nevertheless, they are a well-used and accepted way of evacuating individuals.  However, they do have some disadvantages.  

Getting a person into the chair can be difficult, especially with certain conditions or if the individual is immobile. In that situation, they would need to be lifted into the chair, and that can cause problems in itself.  

Not only is it undignified to have someone pulling at your clothes and limbs to move you, but this manual handling is also a risk for the people doing the evacuating, especially with bariatric individuals. The Health and Safety at Work Act states that an employer has a duty of care to ensure staff are not injured in the process of carrying out their job. Therefore it follows that any emergency evacuation equipment provided should reduce the risk of injury to both the person being evacuated and the person/persons doing the evacuating. If there’s lifting involved, it’s not doing this.  

Slide, don’t lift 

Moving a patient by sliding is much easier and safer, and our EvacPAD is designed with this in mind.  A robust, padded evacuation mat with a hard, durable plastic base, it slides easily over most floor surfaces. Because it’s low to the ground, individuals can easily place themselves onto the mat or, if they are immobile or unconscious, be rolled into position, reducing the risk of manual handling injuries.   

Soft-touch, high visibility pull handles at each end allow the mat to be gently manoeuvered up or down stairs and are easily seen in smoky or low light environments. The securing cross straps are colour-coded for ease and speed of fitting and have adjustable, ergonomically-shaped plastic buckles for patient comfort. A large foot pocket keeps the feet in place and there is the option to add a thermal blanket for additional warmth and protection. And because of the straightforward design, one size fits all, from a small child to a large adult, with any physical disabilities easily accommodated.   

It’s very simple, quick and easy to use – but incredibly effective. And this simplicity means virtually anyone can use it.  

Easy and intuitive to use 

In these times of remote working and changing office culture, when training days are difficult to co-ordinate, there are obvious benefits in having evacuation equipment that is accessible and easily understood.  

One of the things that comes up, again and again, particularly with evacuation chairs, is skills decay.  

If you’re not using something regularly, you forget how to and lose confidence, especially with a large piece of equipment like an evacuation chair. But in an emergency situation, that hesitation could be the difference between life and death.  

There is a worry that post-pandemic, businesses have so many other regulations to deal with that emergency evacuations and risk assessments will have slipped down the priority list. 

It’s easy to see how this can happen. In the last year, organisations have seen some significant changes. Staff with responsibility for fire safety may have left or have been furloughed. Some firms may have grown rapidly and have different requirements both in terms of the numbers of people requiring evacuation and their specific needs. Others suffered financially and need to make cut backs. Indeed, COVID safety regulations may even have introduced issues, such as new screens obstructing access routes or changing working patterns resulting in a lack of trained staff with the right knowledge on each shift.  

Some firms may have grown rapidly and have different requirements both in terms of the numbers of people requiring evacuation and their specific needs.

In these circumstances, retaining that continuity in terms of responsibility and disseminating information to the rest of the team has been difficult, especially when people aren’t meeting face-to-face. 

Recent research backs that up. In a survey by commercial specialist JLA, almost half (49%) of respondents admitted that they do not train all staff on fire safety, while 12% do not offer any form of fire safety training to employees at all. 

Not only are these figures concerning, they also demonstrate why we are seeing organisations move towards products such as the EvacPAD, which are ready to use at any time and require very little training to operate. 

Reduced costs 

Another reason for the increase in popularity is the cost savings to be made. A single EvacPad is around 75% cheaper than an evacuation chair and comes without the need for an annual maintenance contract, saving thousands of pounds year on year. In buildings where multiple evacuation aids are required on multiple floors, this adds up to a significant saving.  

Without hesitation 

When it comes to fire safety and emergency evacuations, having a strategy in place is vital – but it’s only part of the picture. If the evacuation equipment available isn’t fit for purpose or the individual or team isn’t confident operating it, then no matter how good the planning is, the reality has the potential to be a disaster. Don’t wait for that to happen in your organisation.  

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