First of all the law does not stipulate you must have evacuation chairs. However, there are requirements for responsible persons, as determined by legislation, to ensure suitable and sufficient procedures are in place to ensure the safe evacuation of all users of their building in the event of an emergency without the dependence on the emergency services.
Whilst the Fire Service will rescue people, they are not there to implement building emergency procedures. No-one can be left in a building in the event of a fire or other emergency and the culture of depending on the emergency services must change. Our simple reminder is, if you allow people in you must be able to get them out.
If this can not be achieved due to lack of resources, whether that be personnel or equipment, access should be restricted. Whilst this may not meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, fire safety legislation, primarily the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, overrules these requirements but may leave responsible persons open to claims of discrimination.
Forward planning is essential to ensure compliance with all today’s requirements. Gone are the days of a fireman’s lift and members of staff carrying someone up or down stairs for a variety of reasons, primarily the risk of injury to both the person/s carrying and the person being carried, risks of litigation, claims of personal injury and various health and safety/manual handling requirements.
In most workplaces clear documentation including a fire safety policy and management plan, fire risk assessment, emergency procedures, information for the fire service and a fire safety log book should be in place. Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) and General Emergency Evacuation Plans (GEEP) are also required to assist with compliance.
Ambulance chairs, transport chairs, transit chairs and carry chairs are names for lightweight foldable chairs that can be used to transport non-ambulant persons across a flat surface, some can also be carried up and down stairs but may require two or four people to do so. These types of chairs should not be confused with evacuation chairs. Evacuation chairs can be used as transport wheelchairs across a flat surface but also have the added benefit of enabling one person to transport another person down stairs, usually by the use of two skis with rubber belts that create a friction controlled descent when traveling down the stairs.
Whilst most evacuation chairs are designed for one person operation, we recommend two people are present, primarily to provide assistance to the operator by opening doors on exit routes, providing additional control measures if used on an external staircase and also to provide reassurance to the user of the chair.
Some evacuation chairs also have carry handles that enable two people to carry the chair upstairs from basements and over obstructions. The applications for evacuation chairs is basically anywhere with a lift. Not only can the chairs be used in the event of an emergency but they can also be used for personnel who require medical assistance.
As awareness for the need of evacuation chairs increases they will become more common around buildings, just like fire extinguishers. With fire extinguishers staff should have training in their correct use but there is no legal requirement for staff to actually use them. However, with an evacuation chair it is not optional; trained personnel must be prepared to use the equipment and suitable and sufficient procedures must be in place to ensure the safe evacuation of all users of the building.
More businesses are considering online training which is great for raising awareness of various fire safety and health and safety requirements (another division of our company provides this, see www.globextraining.com) and can also provide huge cost efficiencies and minimise disruption in the workplace. However, we believe hands on, face to face training actually using the evacuation chair from the manufacturers or their authorised agents is essential for initial training and ensuring confidence.
Two training sessions for the correct use of evacuation chairs are available, operator training and trainer training. Operator training is just that, training for small groups of 4-6 people per session, (for safety reasons around the staircase) to ensure they are confident and competent in the correct use of the chair, this session would normally be 1 – 1.5 hours.
Trainer training is usually for large organisations who want to roll out the training to their own members of staff, again for 4-6 people and lasts for about 2 hours.
Ideally, where possible and practical, training should involve the potential user of the chair to ensure they are confident in the operation and know what to expect.
Longer training sessions covering emergency procedures and legislative requirements are also available. All training should be recorded in a suitable log book and ideally certificates provided for attendees.
We encourage that evacuation chairs be used during building fire evacuation drills which are generally required a minimum of once per year. This gives operators the opportunity to use the chairs in a realistic emergency situation.
So the fire alarm activates, everyone leaves the building by the nearest available exit and reports to the designated assembly point and designated members of the fire team investigate the cause of the alarm activation.
We generally recommend that non-ambulant persons make their way to the predetermined refuge area (a place of relative safety) with a designated buddy/trained operator in the use of the evacuation chair. They should then communicate with the building fire safety management team via a refuge communication system or walkie talkie to confirm if there is a fire or not. If it is confirmed that there is no fire or risk to the non-ambulant person there is no need to transport them down the stairs.
They can simply wait in the refuge area with their buddy until the fire alarm is silenced and the all clear is given. If there is a confirmed fire or there is no suitable communication system obviously they should be evacuated immediately in the evacuation chair.
It has been said that evacuation chairs are not comfortable, it should be remembered that the devices are not a lounging chair but simply for use in the event of an emergency for a short period of time.
We were recently involved in providing a quote for a large UK organisation. Part of the process was to carry out a survey and provide recommendations. Rather than specifying one chair for every landing on every staircase as others had done we were successful in obtaining the business as we specified a fraction of the number of chairs compared to others.
The numbers were so different as a result of our comprehensive survey which includes a number of specific questions, once the survey was complete together with the building fire risk assessment and emergency plan we recommended just one chair was kept at the reception in each building with a lift and it would form part of the emergency procedures should a non-ambulant person visit.
If a non-ambulant person was employed or visited regularly, more chairs could be provided as necessary. The responsible persons were compliant and happy to have saved thousands of pounds on needless expenditure.
With this particular client we delivered the chairs to each site, wall mounted them in the correct positions and produced a service card identifying the location of each chair. We delivered a certificated training course to key members of staff so they could train their own staff internally, provided a PEEP template for the client to complete as required, together with a checklist for carrying out routine in-house checks. In addition we provide annual maintenance and support when necessary.
All our documentation is produced electronically for ease of distribution and maintaining.
Guide to Assisted Evacuation DVD
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