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Guidance for evacuation procedures

a sign saying 'emergency'

In public places, the workplace legislation requires employers who are conducting a fire risk assessment and considering the means of escape from fire to incorporate the recommendations of The British Standards Institute BS 5588 : Part 8 : 1999: Fire precautions in the design, construction and use of buildings: Code of practice for means of escape for disabled people.

This is not a statutory document but authoritative guidance on the design and management of buildings to enable the safe evacuation of people with disabilities. It includes guidance for people with hearing and sight loss and also includes application to existing buildings .

The following guidance should be read in conjunction with the British Standard 5588: Part 8. It should be used to produce a detailed evacuation plan detailing how disabled people using the building would be evacuated in the event of a fire. The evacuation plan should only be devised by persons familiar with the location and, ideally, the people involved.

  • Disabled people, like everyone else, should always have, available, safe means of escape in the event of fire.
  • The nominated person in charge, must with the assistance of the employer, make the best practicable arrangements for ascertaining what areas is used by disabled people, and must, in consultation with them, make adequate arrangements for their evacuation in the event of fire. These arrangements must be tested.
  • A Personal Fire Evacuation Plan should be drawn up for every disabled person or group of disable people in the building. Regular building users who are disabled should receive a copy of a Personal Fire Evacuation Plan. If the building is one with a large number of visitors then simple relevant fire evacuation instructions should, so far as possible, be handed to disabled visitors, by reception staff.
  • So far as reasonably practicable, fire compartmentation in buildings used by disabled people, and any other arrangements, must comply with British Standard 5588: Part 8 Code of Practice for Means of Escape for Disabled People.
  • Lifts must not be used in the event of fire unless they meet the special requirements of BS 5588: Part 8.
  • A sufficient number of people should be trained in advance in giving assistance to disabled people so that the necessary number would be present in the event of an emergency.
  • Where necessary, arrangements must be made for the presence of the disabled person to be known to those who would give assistance. This could be done with an in-out tally at the entrance or by informing someone, providing the desk or office involved is permanently manned during the day. In some cases, for example ensuring that deaf or blind people are helped out, a floor warden system may be more appropriate.
  • The placing of restrictions on disabled people, requiring them to be accompanied at all times by potential helpers, should where possible be avoided. In buildings with good fire compartmentation it will usually be possible for people to work unaccompanied, provided there are adequate numbers of potential helpers elsewhere in the building. However, disabled people who would need assistance to leave in an emergency should not use buildings at times when insufficient helpers may not be present to assist evacuation (e.g. evenings and weekends). Also, if compartmentation in one area does not reach the standard of BS 5588: Part 8 then it may be necessary to require that a disabled person only uses the area when sufficient numbers are immediately at hand. A disabled person might use a particular floor for normal work and other places in the course of their work.
  • Disabled people should not use any part of a building where it would be difficult for them, even with help, to escape in the event of fire. Use of basements by wheelchair users, where there is no basement level exit, is likely to be an example of this. Activities which might take place in such areas should be moved to different areas, so far as reasonably practicable, to avoid excluding disabled people.
  • In the case of work above ground floor level by people who use a wheelchair or have difficulty with stairs, arrangements should be based on horizontal movement away from fire through fire-resisting doors to an area of refuge. BS 5588: Part 8 indicates the layout requirements for this.

Procedures could be based on the following principles:

  • When the fire bell rings the disabled person asks assistance from anyone nearby to help in evacuation. The disabled person and helpers wait, without causing obstruction, in a place near the stairs until other occupants have gone down and the disabled person is then carried or helped downstairs. It may be necessary to provide one or more evac-chairs for this.
  • If insufficient helpers are on hand the disabled person moves to the main stairwell, or another one if this had been considered by prior agreement with the emergency party to be more convenient, unless there are signs of smoke of fire in which case the stairwell furthest away from the fire is used, and waits in the stairwell for assistance.
  • The emergency party gathers and if the disabled person is known to be in the building they go the pre-arranged staircase or, if that is in or very near the fire, to the alternative staircase and carry the disabled person down.

A fire safety adviser can help in the application of this code to particular circumstances, and should be consulted in any case where it appears that building modifications might be required to provide safe means of escape for disabled persons.

Disabled people should include those temporarily disabled through injury.

(Developed by ADA inc from material developed by Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel. Permission is granted from Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel to print and photocopy this material for nonprofit educational uses).