Make a quick exit

18 February 2020

Evac+Chair examines the importance of education and training when it comes to emergency evacuation.

Since the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005), the ‘responsible person’ for any non-domestic building or premises is required to carry out a regular fire risk assessment and implement any measures to improve safety and reduce fire risk. They are responsible for identifying any persons at risk, such as those with mobility, visual or hearing impairments and ensuring the appropriate processes are in place to safeguard their wellbeing. 

The Fire Safety Order also stipulates that those responsible must ensure all employees have sufficient knowledge of the emergency procedures. This includes organising training to enable them to act on this knowledge quickly, efficiently and safely should an emergency occur. 

Changing regulations

The regulations surrounding building safety are set to tighten. Following the devastating Grenfell fire in 2017 and Hackitt’s subsequent, Independent Review of Building Regulations of Fire Safety, the government published its proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system – Building a Safer Future. Feedback on the proposals is now being analysed, with a document outlining the outcome of the reviews set to be published soon. 

As we wait for regulatory reform, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is looking to quickly appoint a new regulator. The new regulator will be run solely by the HSE and will be responsible for implementing and enforcing the new changes.

However, in the absence of clear progress towards the implementation of new regulations, the private sector has introduced a new fire safety certificate for the external walls of high-rise apartments, which are over six-storeys tall. Although not a legal requirement, the certificate is intended to help ensure building safety for occupants and ultimately, enable the high-rise property market to function properly amid valuers’ fire safety worries. 

The proposed changes and the implementation of new regulations only heighten the need for those responsible to dedicate time to careful planning, education and training to ensure every occupant has a clear means of safe evacuation.  

Improved accessibility

Another factor influencing the growing importance of education surrounding evacuation procedures is the improved accessibility of public buildings and workplaces across the UK. 

Since the introduction of the Equalities Act (2010), workplaces and facilities – old and new – are continuing to adapt to improve their accessibility for people of all abilities. This means more people with mobility impairments now have greater levels of access to high-rise buildings and the importance of planning and training for their safe evacuation cannot be understated.

When it comes to implementing effective evacuation procedures, more careful planning is required for occupants with disabilities. Often, they will need someone to assist with their safe evacuation and they need to be trained to ensure they fully understand their responsibility when an emergency situation arises. 

A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) should be devised for any person who requires support to evacuate a building safely. A PEEP should detail the type of assistance and any equipment required, and details of where this equipment can be found as well as the instructions for use. In order to be effective, these plans must be clearly communicated and tested – with both the person they’re designed for and the people required to help.

Taller buildings

The trend for high-rise buildings throughout the UK continues to grow, with the proliferation of cranes across our city skylines that is testament to the increasing demand for residential and commercial buildings.

This trend is another factor which influences the growing need for more training to safeguard effective evacuation processes and techniques. Taller buildings are not designed with the intention of rapid mass exit, which can lead to bottlenecks on narrow stairwells. This will only be avoided if emergency evacuation is carefully planned and all processes and procedures are clearly communicated to building occupants. This will ensure they have an understanding of their route to a quick, effective and, ultimately, safe evacuation.

What difference does training make?

Fundamentally, training and regular evacuation drills ensure your evacuation procedures are effective as possible when it comes to a real emergency. 

Evacuation training highlights any flaws within your processes and plans. This insight is invaluable. If you’re aware of any shortfalls, you can make the appropriate adjustments, ensuring your evacuation plans remain as effective as possible.

Investing in evacuation equipment will have little effect if no one is aware of the equipment, where to find it and when or how to use it. Similarly, dedicating time to planning your emergency procedures will show little reward if they’re not communicated clearly.

If you’re relying on someone to assist another’s safe evacuation, it’s crucial you’re preparing them with the knowledge of the procedures they need to follow. This will ensure they fully understand their responsibilities and are able to act on these quickly in an emergency situation.