Equipping Your Business for the Disabled

Employers providing services to the public must also take responsibility for ensuring that disabled people can leave the building safely in the event of fire. If you don’t, it may be viewed as discrimination. It may also constitute a failure to comply with the requirements of the fire safety legislation in England and Wales.

From 1 October 2010, the Equality Act 2010 was implemented, and replaced major parts of the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act. An additional duty, the ‘Disability Equality Duty’ (DED), is now required of all public bodies to proactively promote the equality of disabled people. This means that you are required to do even more to ensure that disabled people do not face discrimination by not being provided with a safe evacuation plan from a building.

Below are some of the steps you can take to equip your establishment with the necessary measures required by law.

Mobility impaired people

There is a vast range of people who fit into this category, with wheelchair users being the most prevalent. However, issues relating to this group of people may also be relevant for people with heart conditions or asthma.

The preferred option for escape for people with mobility impairments are by horizontal evacuation either into another fire compartment or evacuation lift. If you aren’t able to house these facilities however, a possible facilitating measure may be the provision of suitable handrails on stairways.

For wheelchair users or those who are unable to manoeuvre themselves easily during an emergency, an evacuation lift should be utilised, if possible. If this facility is not available, it may be necessary to carry a person up or down an escape stairway. Carry-down can be achieved in a number of ways, either in a specially designed evacuation chair, in the person’s own wheelchair or even using an office chair.

Hearing impaired & deaf people

It is important to ensure that hearing-impaired or deaf individuals are alerted in the case of fire. When only an audible fire alarm is present, this may not be a sufficient alert for an emergency situation.

There is an increasing range of auxiliary aids on the market to combat this issue. The ideal solution is to fit rooms with flashing beacons above the fire exits, which can be set up as part of your current fire alarm system. This should ensure that those with hearing impairments are informed when an alert is in progress.

Due to the enforcement of the aforementioned Equality Act 2010, fire alarms for the deaf are now almost integral within the hotel and hospitality sector. In the event of fire, the hard of hearing are at particular risk when they are asleep. There are now several solutions available which enable them to be made aware when the fire alarm sounds, through the use of high intensity LED lights and vibrating pads.

Visually impaired & blind people

In the event of a fire, individuals who are visually impaired will be assisted significantly by good signage and orientation clues. Although not every establishment will have made the provision to provide specialist orientation information, it is possible to make use of existing elements within the building that may assist the visually impaired to facilitate their own evacuation.

Consider what you can implement into your own business environment with ease; we suggest good colour contrasts on the walls, supportive handrails and step edge markings on escape stairs and different textured flooring for escape routes. The more orientation clues that are provided the less assistance is required by members of staff, though there will still be a need to inform the visually impaired that these clues are present. This will allow employees to focus their attention on other individuals who perhaps require more physical support in leaving the premises.

Hopefully this article has spurred you to re-assess you risk assessment and fire safety proceedings. Remember that you will not always be able to instantly recognise whether a person suffers from a disability or not, so you must ensure you are vigilant and prepared in the situation of such an incident arising.