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Legal Aspects of Wheelchair Evacuation

What you need to know about the law in relation to the Emergency Evacuation of wheelchair users.

Traditional evacuation chairs are not the answer. Discover how the Wheelchair Evacuator offers a solution that traditional evacuation chairs fail to provide.

The following is a transcript of Section 4.4.1 of the Government’s Fire Risk Assessment, Supplementary Guide, Means of Escape for Disabled People:

4.4.1. Evacuation chairs.

“An evacuation chair is operated by one or two people and requires training and practice to use.  Disabled people may not feel confident using these chairs and it is not always possible for a wheelchair user to transfer into an evacuation chair or to maintain a sitting position once seated in one.  Therefore evacuation chairs should not be considered an automatic solution to the escape requirements of wheelchair users.”

“It is unlikely that an evacuation chair will be of much use unless both the user and the operator are well trained  and familiar with the piece of equipment.  It is essential that when they are purchased a suitable training system is also implemented.  Regular practices should take place.  In most cases these may not need to include the disabled person, although some may  wish to practice being moved in the evacuation chair.  It is more appropriate for the people who are trained to operate the evacuation chair to take it in turns during practices than involve the disabled person.  Using an evacuation chair may put the disabled person at risk from injury, so it is best to limit their use by disabled people to the real thing.”

NOTE:  This is the official advice from Government. However, this advice clearly states:

1) Disabled people may not feel confident using these chairs.

2) It is not always possible for a wheelchair user to transfer into an evacuation chair.  (This necessitates the use of a dangerous manual handling operation under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. and as such, prior to any attempt being made to lift the wheelchair user the employer of the operators must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of all such manual handling operations to be undertaken by his employees.

3) It is not always possible for a wheelchair user to maintain a sitting position once seated in the evacuation chair.  (This is particularly dangerous as if the wheelchair user suddenly shifts position then the centre of gravity of the whole load being taken down the stairs moves and the evacuation chair becomes unstable.  This places both the evacuee and the operator in serious danger.)

4) “Evacuation chairs should not be considered an automatic solution to the escape requirements of wheelchair users.”

“It is unlikley that an evacuation chair will be of much use unless both the user and the operator are well trained  and familiar with the piece of equipment.  (This advice is then contradicted later in the paragraph where it states “Using an evacuation chair may put the disabled person at risk from injury, so it is best to limit their use by disabled people to the real thing.”

This advice can not be taken by operators of public buildings where members of the public are encouraged to gather in large numbers, almost at random, e.g. Hotels, Shopping Centres, Theatres, Airports, Department stores etc. etc..  The reason is that in these buildings it is impossible to know how many people with disabilities are present, what their disabilities are and what assistance they may need.

Section 4.2 Mobility impaired people.

The preferred options for escape of people with mobility impairments are by horizontal evacuation to outside the building, horizontal evacuation into another fire compartment, or fire evacuation lift, eventually arriving at a place of ultimate safety outside the building.

NOTE:  Evacuation chairs are primarily designed to work on stairs, they are not designed for onward evacuation to a place of ultimate safety outside the building, therefore when a wheelchair user is taken down stairs in an evacuation chair it is necessary to use a further dangerous manual handling operation to transfer them back into their own wheelchair.  This assumes the wheelchair has not been abandoned up the stairs.

This is the current situation with regards the emergency evacuation of wheelchair users. Now, with the introduction of the Wheelchair Evacuator we have revolutionised the emergency evacuation of wheelchair users.  

There is now a major breakthrough in the way wheelchair users can be evacuated from buildings safely and effectively and it is now possible for all building owners, managers and occupiers to conform with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.