IFSJ Exclusive: Closing the legislative gap with Evac+Chair

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Evac + Chair looks at how the safety and lives of the UK’s disabled workforce are at risk in an emergency

Risky Business, the study from Evac+Chair International, found that one quarter of UK business decision makers do not know how many disabled and mobility impaired people there are within their organisation. Almost a third (29 per cent) have only “some” or “very little” understanding of their responsibilities, with one in 10 either not prepared, or unsure if they are adequately prepared, to safely evacuate employees needing assistance.

82 per cent of organisations surveyed are now calling on the Government to provide more clarity on their responsibilities surrounding fire safety, while more than two thirds (67 per cent) think that evacuation equipment should be a legal requirement.

Gerard Wallace, Managing Director of Evac+Chair International, says there are more than 4.8m disabled people in UK workplaces and this figure is rising and that those responsible for their safety are falling short, with a clear lack of knowledge, understanding and investment amplifying risk in emergency situations.

“Our findings show that safe evacuations for all clearly needs to move higher up the agenda.”

“Despite recent tragedies highlighting how important it is to be prepared to safely evacuate everyone from multistorey buildings, our findings show that safe evacuations for all clearly needs to move higher up the agenda,” says Wallace. “Our report makes the case to the Government for better education and a firmer legal landscape.”

This research surveyed 490 small and medium business decision makers across the UK about emergency evacuations. It covered legislation, awareness, preparedness and challenges facing firms when navigating their responsibilities around the safety of the disabled community.

Key findings

  • 25 per cent of decision makers are not aware of the number of mobility impaired people at their organisation.
  • More than two-thirds of decision makers (67 per cent) think there is a culture of fire safety non-compliance or looking for loopholes in the business community.
  • 29 per cent of organisations have only “some” or “very little” understanding of their obligations when it comes to safe evacuations.
  • 10 per cent of businesses are either not prepared, or unsure if they are fully prepared, to evacuate mobility impaired members of staff.
  • Almost one in five (19 per cent) say their organisations’ fire safety plan does not take into consideration temporary mobility issues.
  • Two-thirds (68 per cent) think that fire safety legislation does not do enough to protect people with mobility issues.
  • More than two thirds (67 per cent) think that having an evacuation chair should be a legal requirement.

New risks

Fires may be the most obvious and prevalent need for an emergency evacuation, but other risks are becoming increasingly possible, with flooding and extreme weather are expected to become the norm as Met Office research indicating that there is a greater risk of flash flooding and fire in the future. Energy shortages are also increasing the likelihood of blackouts, which are a trigger for emergency evacuations.

The research highlights a clear link between a lack of awareness and a lack of preparedness, with only one in five decision makers showing understanding of their organisation’s obligations when it comes to evacuation, whilst one in ten businesses are either not prepared at all or not sure they are prepared to evacuate disabled or mobility impaired members of staff.

Who is responsible?

An employers’ legal responsibilities under The Fire Safety Act in 2021, as explained by the London Fire Brigade, are to: “Ensure your premises reach the required standards” and “Provide employees with fire safety training – this usually includes induction training, covering general fire awareness, extra training if the level of risk increases as a result of changes to business operations and supporting employees to meet their fire safety duties. This could include training to carry out a fire risk assessment or for fire warden duties.”

Whoever is the appointed responsible person is required by law to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment to identify the risks and hazards in the premises they are responsible for. If a business has five or more employees, this Fire Risk Assessment must be recorded.

Grenfell’s legacy

Last year, disabled campaigners launched a legal challenge against the Government for failing to implement the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s call for evacuation plans for disabled people in high-rise buildings. The decision is expected imminently.

According to the report, more than one quarter (27 per cent) of respondents do not have someone solely responsible for evacuations, while one in five (19 per cent) do not take temporary mobility challenges – such as pregnancy or a broken leg – into consideration in their safety plans.

On regulation, 68 per cent think that fire safety legislation does not do enough to protect those with access needs, while the cost of equipment and a lack of information were cited as the biggest challenges for business leaders to develop suitable emergency evacuation procedures.

Sarah Rennie, accessibility consultant and fire safety campaigner of Claddag, which represents disabled and older people impacted by the #BuildingSafetyCrisis following the Grenfell Tower disaster says that the disabled community, which makes up one in five of the working age population, is placed in danger every day because of building design and management practices.

“The vast majority of us become disabled during our lives so it’s important to expect colleagues to need support next week which they might not need today,” says Rennie. “Any day of the week you should expect a disabled visitor, supplier or client to enter the building. Businesses must have practices in place to plan for known-unknown scenarios like this.

“The disabled residents who died in Grenfell Tower had no effective plans to escape or aids to do so. If we do not change our practices then we have to take personal and organisational accountability for future preventable deaths and life-changing injuries. In workplaces, we need to ask ourselves what our practices say about how we value the lives of our disabled colleagues, visitors and friends.”

Call for action

The report highlights the statistic that over two thirds (68 per cent) of respondents think that current fire safety legislation does not go far enough, whilst the majority (67 per cent) of respondents believe that having an evacuation chair should be a legal requirement.

The majority of respondents believe that having an evacuation chair should be a legal requirement.

Wallace adds: “Current legislation is not fit for purpose, offering little clarity to businesses and those responsible for multistorey buildings. This ambiguity, and the fact that provision of appropriate equipment is not a legal requirement, is clearly enabling a ‘slippery shoulders’ culture within businesses.

“Businesses are calling for more guidance and urging policymakers to make the law work harder for those facing access barriers. It’s time to close the legislative gap.”

Contact Evac+Chair on +44 (0) 121 706 6744 or [email protected] and visit evacchair.co.uk for more information.

Evac+Chair at The Health and Safety Event

Evac+Chair will be showcasing their full range of evacuation chairs at the Health & Safety Event. Their team of experts will be available to discuss your evacuation requirements, provide information about training, maintenance and how to ensure you are prepared for safe evacuations. Live demonstrations will be taking place daily, giving delegates the opportunity to experience the world-renowned Evac+Chair themselves!

Evac+Chair is the original manufacturer and global leader in emergency evacuation chairs for the mobility impaired. Underpinned with over 40 years of experience in the design and manufacture of evacuation chairs, Evac+Chair is trusted and relied upon in emergency situations to assist in saving lives. With a wide range of accreditations, Evac+Chair prides itself on its superior product quality.

Their lifesaving products are installed in a variety of environments including offices, hotels, schools, colleges, sports stadia, retail outlets, factories and various healthcare settings worldwide.

To meet the team and find out more information on their products and services, please visit stand A20.

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