Emergency evacuation measures risking lives of disabled workforce

A new report lays bare how the safety and lives of the UK’s disabled workforce, and those dealing with access barriers, are at risk in an emergency. 

Risky Business, the study from Evac+Chair International, found that one quarter of UK business decision makers do not know how many disabled and mobility impaired people there are within their organisation. Almost a third (29 per cent) have only “some” or “very little” understanding of their responsibilities, with one in 10 either not prepared, or unsure if they are adequately prepared, to safely evacuate employees needing assistance. 

An overwhelming 82 per cent of organisations are calling on the Government to provide more clarity on their responsibilities surrounding fire safety, while more than two thirds (67 per cent) think that evacuation equipment should be a legal requirement. 

Gerard Wallace, Managing Director of Evac+Chair International, said:

“There are more than 4.8m disabled people in UK workplaces and this figure is rising. Those responsible for their safety are falling short, with a clear lack of knowledge, understanding and investment amplifying risk in emergency situations. 

“Despite recent tragedies highlighting how important it is to be prepared to safely evacuate everyone from multistorey buildings, our findings show that safe evacuations for all clearly needs to move higher up the agenda. Our report makes the case to the Government for better education and a firmer legal landscape.” 

Last year, disabled campaigners launched a legal challenge against the Government for failing to implement the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s call for evacuation plans for disabled people in high-rise buildings. The decision is expected imminently.

Staggeringly, more than two thirds (67 per cent) of decision makers believe there is a culture of non-compliance or exploitation of loopholes in the business community, surrounding evacuation measures. 

More than one quarter (27 per cent) of respondents do not have someone solely responsible for evacuations, while one in five (19 per cent) do not take temporary mobility challenges – such as pregnancy or a broken leg – into consideration in their safety plans. 

On regulation, 68 per cent think that fire safety legislation does not do enough to protect those with access needs, while the cost of equipment and a lack of information were cited as the biggest challenges for business leaders to develop suitable emergency evacuation procedures. 

Sarah Rennie, accessibility consultant and fire safety campaigner of Claddag, which represents disabled and older people impacted by the #BuildingSafetyCrisis following the Grenfell Tower disaster, added: 

“The disabled community, making up one in five of the working age population, is placed in danger every day because of building design and management practices. The vast majority of us become disabled during our lives so it’s important to expect colleagues to need support next week which they might not need today. Any day of the week you should expect a disabled visitor, supplier or client to enter the building. Businesses must have practices in place to plan for known-unknown scenarios like this. 

“The disabled residents who died in Grenfell Tower had no effective plans to escape or aids to do so. If we do not change our practices then we have to take personal and organisational

accountability for future preventable deaths and life-changing injuries. In workplaces, we need to ask ourselves what our practices say about how we value the lives of our disabled colleagues, visitors and friends.”

Wallace added: 

“Current legislation is not fit for purpose, offering little clarity to businesses and those responsible for multistorey buildings. This ambiguity, and the fact that provision of appropriate equipment is not a legal requirement, is clearly enabling a ‘slippery shoulders’ culture within businesses.

“Businesses are calling for more guidance and urging policymakers to make the law work harder for those facing access barriers. It’s time to close the legislative gap.”

To read the Risky Business report, please visit www.evacchair.co.uk/white-paper-risky-business-download/. 

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