Imagine being at work, hearing the fire alarm and realising it is not a drill. Picture smoke and panic starting to fill the air, as people rush about trying to exit the building. Now imagine yourself physically unable to get out on your own and in the commotion being left behind.
It’s a thing of nightmares, but unfortunately for many people this could be a reality they are faced with one day.
As many of you already know, it is no longer the role of the fire service to provide an evacuation service for non-domestic premises throughout England and Wales. This responsibility now legally lies with any person who has some level of control of the premises, known as the ‘responsible person’ – the owner, employers or service provider for example, as outlined in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Although this legislation has been in force for twelve years now, it is still very much apparent that many ‘responsible’ people are failing to fulfil their fire safety duties, breaking the law and ultimately putting lives at risk.
On April 11th 2017 a retirement property company was prosecuted by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service and ordered by courts to pay fines and costs of £360,000 for a string of fire safety breaches at a retirement home, where a fire broke out claiming the life of a vulnerable elderly resident.
Findings included the lack of a suitable risk assessment carried out by the company, "inadequate" fire dividing walls in the loft space, a lack of fire safety training for managers at the home and no clear evacuation procedure. These failings had been flagged up by previous safety inspections, but were ignored by the company.
So what are the main duties of the ‘responsible person’ under current fire safety legislation?
- Carry out regular fire risk assessments on the property
- Implement and maintain suitable fire safety measures
- Consider who may be especially at risk and any special measure that need to be taken
- Create a plan to deal with any emergency, including evacuation procedures
- Ensure staff are regularly trained and knowledgeable of all aspects of emergency plans and procedures
- Keep formal records and update regularly
Pre-planning is the key to complying with fire safety legislation and any person responsible for creating plans to deal with an emergency, should do so with the absolute worst case scenario in mind – and most importantly how to get everyone safely out of the building in the event of a fire.
In buildings used by the general public a ‘generic emergency evacuation plan’ (GEEP) is required to enable visitors to the building to become familiar with the layout, evacuation procedures, available equipment and communication devices. A GEEP should be produced to cover any visitors or casual users of the premises who may be present infrequently or on only one occasion. The plan should have all eventualities considered including how to evacuate individuals with restricted mobility or those who may not be able to evacuate unaided.
For private buildings such as schools, offices and care homes, who may have a mobility impaired person on site frequently, a ‘personal emergency evacuation plan’ (PEEP) is required. A PEEP is a tailor-made plan of action to ensure the safety of a specific person in the event of an emergency evacuation. A PEEP should detail escape routes, identify the designated person(s) responsible for assisting in the evacuation along with any required equipment and training.
A PEEP should be planned with the specific individual so that all aspects and methods of evacuation can be agreed. Once a clear evacuation plan has been drawn up and agreed, staff should be fully trained to a competent standard and this should be regularly practiced during fire drills.
So who needs a PEEP?
The most important question that needs answering when deciding if a PEEP is necessary is "can you evacuate the building, down flights of stairs, unaided, in a prompt manner, during an emergency situation?" If the answer is "no", then a PEEP is needed.
The most obvious people will be those who use a wheelchair or have an evident physical disability, but not all people are so easily identifiable. It is also to take into account individuals with underlying medical conditions, such as heart conditions or epilepsy which could be triggered as a result of heightened anxiety or exertion during an evacuation and those with temporary conditions.
PEEPs may be required for individuals with:
- Mobility impairments
- Sight impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Cognitive impairments
- Underlying medical conditions
A temporary PEEP may be required individuals with:
- Short term injuries (i.e. broken leg)
- Temporary medical conditions
- Those in the later stages of pregnancy
The most important factor within these evacuation plan is how to safely accompany someone down several flights of stairs without putting staff or the individual in danger of injury. The options generally boil down to three main choices:-
- Evacuation on a mattress using either Ski Sheets or Evacuation Straps – used in hospital and residential care homes.
- Evacuation chairs/ stair climbers – some of which are able to both ascend and descend stairs
- Evacuation Mats/Ski Pads - which some users and operators feel more comfortable using as an alternative to chairs for staircase evacuation
Evacuation devices should never be purchased “for the sake of having something in place”. When deciding what device is right, it is important to establish if the user is able and willing to be evacuated using it, whether the device operator(s) is confident in its use and also if it is suited to the internal structure of the building. These issues need to be addressed prior to purchase to avoid the possibility of issues in a real emergency event.
Here at Hospital Aids we understand the importance of getting this potential lifesaving equipment right. Through our close workings with healthcare professionals and organisations we have developed evacuation products to cater for all types of individuals, including those with specialist or complex care needs.
We have a strong belief that evacuation equipment should be decided upon using a ‘hands on’ approach, which is why we offer free product demonstrations and evaluation days across the UK. Once you have the equipment that is right for you, we can provide training courses to help staff plan and practice emergency evacuation procedures and the correct use of evacuation equipment.
For more information on any products and services contact Hospital Aids
Oringinally written for Means of escape by Michelle Williams