Disabled staff and visitors
It is important that the needs of all staff and visitors are properly considered in determining the safest means of escape etc. Disabled people, those who are not at a peak of fitness or who may have a temporary condition affecting their ability to exit the premises unaided have to be included in any emergency arrangements. The golden rule is always 'Ask the person themselves whether they need assistance and, if so, what.'
Mobility impairments and wheelchair users
People using wheelchairs, and others with mobility impairments should be asked whether they need assistance in any evacuation and, if so, how they can best be aided. Lifts are usually out of bounds during a fire - though some buildings may be fitted with specially protected lifts - and it may be necessary to seek volunteers capable of assisting people up or down stairs.
If your premises has got fire protected lifts, you should liase with the local fire brigade about their use for emergency evacuation.
If helpers are appointed, there must be sufficient to ensure adequate assistance is always available, taking into account possible sick absences and annual leave. If they are required to lift somebody, or move them in any way involving bodily force, it is vital that they are properly trained, to avoid the risks of injury to both themselves and the person being assisted.
Remember to consider possible temporary mobility impairment - for example, staff with broken limbs in plaster, heavily pregnant women - who may need additional assistance to cover a limited period of time. Staff should be regularly reminded of the need to inform the employer of any temporary condition that could affect their ability to evacuate the building safely in case of fire.
Much has been written, mostly negative, about putting disabled people, particularly wheelchair users, in 'fire cupboards' to await collection by the fire brigade.
PCS would not recommend the practice and the Disability Rights Commission have issued guidance against the practice. In any event, this sort of thing should NEVER be done without obtaining the agreement, in writing, of the fire brigade that would have to attend the building in case of fire.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that decisions on evacuation methods for disabled people should include consideration of the needs and views of the disabled person themselves.
If a system including refuges is to be used, it is important that:
- the fire brigade is informed, in advance, that such a system is in use and how many people are affected;
- there is some form of communication between those in the refuge and those who have evacuated the building;
- the incident control officer, or whoever else is in charge of the emergency situation, informs the fire brigade, on their arrival of the names and locations of any disabled people awaiting their assistance.
Visually impaired staff
Again, the first rule is 'Ask whether help is needed and, if so, what' - it may be possible to supplement visual signs with audible or tactile ones that enable some staff with restricted vision to follow escape routes unaided.
If helpers are appointed, ensure adequate cover (as stated above).
In some environments, visual alarm systems are used instead of or to supplement audible alarm. It is important to supplement such systems for those with visual impairments.
Staff with hearing impairments
Hearing impaired staff may not be able to hear an alarm bell or siren. Ask whether the alarm signal is audible to them, in all parts of the premises.
Systems that provide a visual or tactile warning may be required, especially where people with hearing impairment may be working alone. Otherwise, it may be sufficient to rely on them being informed of the alarm by a hearing colleague.
Before installing any alternative alarms, always seek advice from the Fire Authority. Fitting a new alarm system would also require a revision to the fire risk assessment.
Staff with learning difficulties
Clear, concise instructions may be sufficient to ensure the safety of staff with learning difficulties. But they may prefer to have assistance, to ensure that they can reach a place of safety. It is preferable to use staff whom they know well, if this is necessary.
Additional advice on assisting disabled people can often be obtained from organisations representing disabled people, or from the Fire Authority.