Legislation doesn’t directly instruct a company or organisation to purchase and install evacuation chairs and train employees in their use. However, the requirements of certain legislation point to them being the only possible choice for effective compliance with that legislation.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 gives a ‘responsible person’ a duty in law to provide a means of evacuation for people who are less mobile. This could mean, for example, that they’re a wheelchair user, that they have a temporary condition such as a broken leg, have suffered a heart attack, or even be pregnant. Article 4 (1)(b) of the order explains the responsibility in more detail, and Article 4 (1)(c) explains that the means of escape must be available for use safely and effectively for anyone in the building.
The order requires that everyone should know what to do in the event of a fire. It also means that a ‘PEEP’, or Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan, should be developed for every individual who might have special needs when it comes to evacuation from the building.
It is also advisable to arrange for ‘refuge areas’ in which people with impaired mobility can remain safe whilst evacuation is arranged – which is the responsibility of the ‘responsible person’, and not of the Fire and Rescue Services.
A refuge area needs to be:
- an enclosed area of fire-resisting construction
- capable of 30 minutes fire resistance
- large enough for a wheelchair to manoeuvre
- served by a safe exit route
These areas also represent a sensible place in which to store an evac chair, since that’s where it is likely to be required.
Furthermore, when the decision has been taken to provide at least one evac chair, Article 21 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 gives a duty to instruct staff in its safe use.
Those considering avoiding purchase of an evac chair by restricting access to parts of a building to disabled people put themselves at risk of breaching disability legislation.
Although neither the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 nor the Equality Act 2010 have anything to do directly with the provision of evac chairs, such provision might be seen as a necessary consequence of them. Disability legislation means it is illegal to limit access to parts of your premises based on potential difficulties of employees or visitors to reach them. Therefore, the onus falls on the owner or occupier to facilitate access and egress to and from all parts of the building. It is also worth remembering that if anyone requires the assistance of a stair lift to reach upper floors, they are very likely to need the use of an evac chair to leave in the event of an emergency.
A helpful Government guide Means of Escape for Disabled People looks at these points in comprehensive detail.