An emergency evacuation procedure is part of a fire safety management system (FSMS) comprising of various policies and procedures assisting in the development of fire safety management and identifying fire risks within a facility.
Every employer or person with responsibility for a premises is responsible to ensure that reasonable measures for safe evacuation of able bodied and disabled persons in the event of a fire or emergency are in place. Therefore, it is essential that a robust emergency evacuation procedure be produced, implemented and monitored by competent people in order to prevent unwanted incidents causing death or injury.
The implementation of an emergency evacuation procedure is expected to communicate how the occupier will respond to requirements with respect to fire safety legislation and ‘duty of care’ responsibilities for all persons working at, living in, receiving treatment or visiting any premises at any given time. The procedure(s) may also consider good governance issues associated with the preservation of the construction of the premises and the building contents against the potential of fire or damage. Safe evacuation of occupants (abled bodied and disabled people) within a premises is paramount and may require detailed planning.
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order is new fire safety legislation replacing and amending various Acts, and other fire safety related legislation. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, scheduled to come into effect on 1 April 2006, has now been delayed. When in place, the Order will simplify, rationalise and consolidate existing regulations.
Developing an Emergency Evacuation Procedure
During the analysis and evaluation for safe evacuation of occupants within a facility, several factors must be addressed for each type of occupation (office, hospital, schools, prisons, etc) in order to develop and implement a robust emergency evacuation procedure. It is important to know and understand how the various types of fire precaution systems (fire alarms, sprinklers, emergency lighting etc.) contribute to the management of risks within the property (high, medium or low risk). Of similar importance are the competency levels of individuals with fire safety responsibilities that have been devolved to them as part of the fire safety management system (FSMS) for the organisation.
One of the primary factors when planning for a fire or emergency is for the employer or person responsible for the premises to provide adequate and professional training for members of staff. This includes developing training needs analysis and training objectives for all employees; in particular those with specific devolved fire safety responsibilities.
It is essential that all members of staff with devolved responsibilities have been fully trained and ideally competency tested in order to fulfil their fire safety roles and responsibilities.
Fire simulations and conducting regular fire drills are also key factors in helping to produce a robust emergency evacuation procedure. The fire and/or emergency drills/simulations will greatly assist in the preparation of staff to manage occupants (abled bodied and disabled) during an emergency evacuation.
Another key factor in planning for an emergency and developing an emergency evacuation procedure is the fire risk assessment process. This process will respond to the statutory duty placed on the owner, landlord, tenant, or person in charge of the premises to assess the basic needs of property maintenance and inspections by identifying all fire hazards and determining the risks that are involved. This fire risk assessment process will improve the levels of fire safety as well as reinforce the prevention of fire risks developing into a life safety hazard. Management of fire risks will assist in the providing and maintaining a robust of emergency evacuation procedure and FSMS.
Requirements for an Emergency Evacuation Procedure
So what should an emergency evacuation procedure contain?
An emergency evacuation procedure should include (but not be limited to) the following areas:
-Fire Alarm System (where applicable)
- Visitors, Contractors, Volunteers.
- Assembly Points.
- Disabled Persons.
- Special Requirements (progressive horizontal evacuation, area of safe refuge etc.)
Another important area of focus in the development of a robust emergency evacuation procedure is an understanding of the fire alarm system and its cause and effect and how this will signal the evacuation.
For example, an emergency evacuation procedure may stipulate immediate vertical/horizontal evacuation upon an emergency signal (fire alarm activation or verbal warning) to an area of relative or ultimate safety. This area of safety may be in a designated refuge area (for people with a disability), assembly point usually outside of the facility a safe distance away, or within a protected compartment (progressive evacuation). However, this is dependant upon the type of building (i.e. hospitals evacuate using a progressive horizontal approach) and must be supported by the fire risk assessment process.
Differences between Emergency Evacuation Procedures
What is the difference between progressive horizontal evacuation and vertical evacuation?
Safe evacuation of patients within a healthcare or residential care facility will be substantially different to the evacuation procedure for occupants within an office or a school.
Healthcare guidelines (HTM series documents) suggest the process of progressive horizontal evacuation for all patients undergoing treatment. Thus, patients are moved to an adjacent compartment that is adequately fire separated rather than completely evacuated from the property. This will further impact the cause and effect regarding evacuation throughout the hospital in the event of a fire or emergency. During the evacuation process, all other occupants within the healthcare facility (i.e. visitors, contractors, and other members of staff without devolved responsibilities for emergency evacuation) have an option to vertically evacuate the property or maintain a progressive horizontal evacuation.
Total building evacuation is the most common method of emergency evacuation for offices, schools and other general use buildings. This simply means, upon activation of an evacuation signal, occupants will evacuate to an area of ultimate safety. This area of safety is usually located a safe distance away from the facility (i.e. an assembly area).
The assembly area is a ‘safe place’ where the Fire Warden, Fire Co-ordinator, or person with designated responsibilities conducts a ‘roll call’ in order to ensure that all persons in his/her section have been accounted for. The Fire Brigade will be notified of the occupant status and any other issues of concern, at which point they will proceed to execute their fire fighting duties. It is important that the level of communication between the fire brigade and the site Fire Warden/ Fire Co-ordinator (staff member with devolved responsibility) is clear, precise and accurate. The fire brigade will then take charge of the situation and begin assessment of the incident.
The fire brigade is not responsible for the evacuation of disabled people left inside the premises (within an area of safe refuge); however they will attempt to rescue persons whose lives are threatened.
Employers or person responsible for the premises should make provisions for the safe evacuation of members of staff having a disability.
Disabled Evacuation Procedures
It is extremely important that employers or the responsible person, to undertake evaluations of all employees that have disabilities who may require assistance during evacuation in the event of a fire or emergency, or could require additional means for giving warning. This could mean a flashing beacon or a vibrating pager to give warning to employees who are visually or hearing impaired.
As stated earlier, the fire brigade is not responsible to evacuate wheelchair users, individuals with physical disabilities or those waiting in an area of safe refuge at any time during an emergency evacuation.
It is the responsibility of the employer or responsible person, to ensure that there are adequate measures and provisions are in place for the safe evacuation of disabled employees. Employers or person responsible should interview members of staff with disabilities and discuss various methods of evacuation in the event of a fire or emergency. Thus, it is extremely important for employees with devolved responsibilities to have explicit training in order to execute their duties effectively.
Area of Safe Refuge (Special Requirements)
An area of safe refuge should be used as a ‘holding’ facility for members of staff who are unable to evacuate the premises without assistance. The refuge area should be within a protected zone, lobby, or stair; preventing the ingress of smoke and/or fire to the area for a period of time (depending on the type of construction and fire resistance of the compartmentation).
A refuge area should be enclosed with a minimum of 30 minutes fire resisting construction, having suitable signage and equipped with a two-way communication system having the ability to relay and receive information to a central monitoring point/station within the facility. The member of staff (Incident Co-ordinator, Fire Warden, Deputy, or person with devolved responsibilities) should attend the central station relaying and receiving information at all times during the emergency provided it is safe to do so and to report the status of evacuation to the attending fire brigade officer.
On the basis of fire risk assessment and the prevailing circumstances the procedure for the evacuation of disabled persons from refuges requires definition. Options range from the disabled person remaining in the refuges (unless directly threatened by fire) or to retain only until all able-bodied persons have evacuated the facility. Decisions relating to risks associated with assisted evacuation of disabled individuals (i.e. decanting from wheelchairs to evacuation chairs) needs to be planned against the risk of injury and the feelings and dignity of individuals involved.
PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan)
The purpose of a PEEP is to provide disabled (visual, hearing or mobility impairment) employees who require assistance to evacuate or are unable to evacuate themselves unaided out of a premises with the necessary information to be able to adequately manage their escape from the facility. This also provides departments and other members of staff with the necessary information to ensure that the correct level of assistance is available at all time.
A PEEP is developed between and employer or responsible person and the member of staff with a disability through an informal interview and/or questionnaire. The PEEP will assist in determining an escape strategy, devise a means of locating the person in an emergency situation and to give assistance, if required. The interview and/or questionnaire will consist of a number of questions and will be unique to the individual.
The PEEP should be completed by someone who is qualified and has received adequate training in order to identify the wide range of needs for members of staff with a disability.
Emergency evacuation procedures define the roles and responsibilities of those with specific fire safety duties as well as for general employees. Employers or the responsible person must ensure that all staff members with fire safety responsibilities are competent to carry out the delegated fire safety tasks.
Overall, the introduction, implementation and monitoring of an emergency evacuation procedure of which the training needs analysis will assist organisations and employers to maintain a safe and responsible system for all occupants within their facility.