It is vital for a business to have facilities and procedures in place to help disabled people move around a building – and it is even more important to have effective systems in place to help them get out.
When the need arises to evacuate a building the likelihood is that large numbers of people will be heading for the same exits at the same time. The resulting congestion adds significantly to the difficulties facing disabled people, and dealing with it demands the preparation of GEEPs and PEEPs – generic and personal emergency evacuation plans.
Key to these is the recognition that designing with disabled people in mind goes beyond the provision of physical facilities. Proper planning will help a business overcome potential problems, and that requires research and anticipation.
One of the main issues with a GEEP is a lack of knowledge about how many people will be in a building when the time comes to evacuate, but general business planning can help.
In a department store you know from your takings when you are likely to be at your busiest, with more customers and therefore more staff. So you might want to make sure that at those times you have more staff available who are trained in evacuation procedures. In making that connection you are using sales information to help design your GEEP.
You are not thinking at this stage about specific conditions and impairments, such as emphysema or a knee replacement. It is about planning to evacuate people who have poor mobility rather than a specific condition. That can mean someone using a stick or a wheelchair or who just needs someone to hold onto. It also means proper use of disabled refuges.
Refuges should be provided, the location should be outside the general circulation route and give a minimum of 30 minutes fire protection. It should include a two-way communication system which is accessible – can be reached from a seated position and can be operated with a clenched fist or elbow. It should have an induction loop and should not be too close to the nearest alarm sounder.
There should be a refuge for each protected staircase, clearly signposted and free from obstruction. If you need to assist a disabled person on the first floor during the evacuation of a five-storey building you might use the refuge to let everybody else go past, so you can then move down at the pace of the person with the impairment.
Your GEEP should include making visitors aware of your evacuation process or asking them how they want to receive assistance in the event of an evacuation.
This is particularly important where you have people staying overnight. It is easy for a hotel to establish the needs of individual guests, and accessibility should be part of that. Accessibility requirements could be identified in the same way as finding out if someone wants a smoking room or a non-smoking room, a double or a twin, a bath or a shower. Just ask whether a person would require assistance and how they would like to receive that assistance.
The significance goes beyond common courtesy – you are in a position to make a big difference to the quality of that person’s stay, and to whether they are likely to want to come again.
A PEEP is easier to resolve because you are designing it around a known individual. You would send out a confidential questionnaire asking if staff require assistance with evacuation. Then you might meet with them and write a PEEP. It becomes part of the induction process, but you also need to remember that people’s needs change over time.
Someone might acquire an impairment during their employment. They might become temporarily disabled because of an injury or operation, needing a wheelchair or sticks but only for a short period of time.
Once a PEEP has been agreed upon the question arises of whether it is appropriate for other members of staff to be made aware of what’s required.
We advised in a case where an occupational health department refused on the grounds of employee confidentiality to inform the health and safety manager pro-actively of new staff who had mobility issues.
We quoted the Equality and Human Rights Commission Code of Practice which says that if an employer’s agent or employee, such as the occupational health adviser, knows in that capacity of a worker’s or applicant’s or potential applicant’s disability, the employer will be considered to be aware and will be expected to make reasonable adjustments to its procedures.
At About Access, we provide services concerned with accessibility for disabled people.
Our aim is to help organisations avoid costly and damaging conflict by ensuring that their premises are accessible. We also work to make sure staff are properly trained, and that they recognise disabled people – including customers and colleagues – as individuals whose requirements and treatment are key to the wellbeing of a business.
Managing Director Ian Streets is a member of the National Register of Access Consultants, the Access Association and Network Rail’s Built Environment Access Panel (BEAP) and as such works with BSI Standards, the UK’s national standards body, to advise on appropriate designs for buildings and their surrounding areas.
If you want to know more, or you have a question or concern, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org