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6.15 Means of escape


Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Attention is always focused on getting into premises, when, of course, if one is going to enable disabled people to fully use the building, one also needs to enable them to leave safely. The safe evacuation of disabled people is a problematic area for policy makers and one that has not received sufficient attention to date.

It is important that both building managers and disabled people understand that planning for means of escape is about planning for exceptional circumstances (i.e. not an everyday event). When writing escape plans that include disabled people, there is sometimes a tendency to overplay the safety issue to the detriment of the independence and dignity of disabled people.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 replaces most fire safety legislation with one new order. It means that any person who has some level of control in premises must take steps to reduce the risk from fire, consider how to contain a fire should one break out and then also make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire.

The order applies to virtually all premises and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space apart from private homes or individual flats. Fire authorities no longer issue fire certificates and those previously in force will have no legal status.

The Fire and Rescue Service's role in fire evacuation is that of ensuring that the means of escape in case of fire and associated fire safety measures provided for all people who may be in a building are both adequate and reasonable, taking into account the circumstances of each particular case.

Under current fire safety legislation it is the responsibility of the person(s) having responsibility for the building to provide a fire safety risk assessment that includes an emergency evacuation plan for all people likely to be in the premises, including disabled people, and how that plan will be implemented. Such an evacuation plan should not rely upon the intervention of the Fire and Rescue Service to make it work.

In the case of multi-occupancy buildings, responsibility may rest with a number of persons for each occupying organisation and with the owners of the building. It is important that they co-operate and co-ordinate evacuation plans with each other. This could present a particular problem in multi-occupancy buildings when the different escape plans and strategies need to be co-ordinated from a central point.

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (DDA) does not make any change to these requirements: it underpins the current fire safety legislation in England and Wales - the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 - by requiring that employers or organisations providing services to the public take responsibility for ensuring that all people, including disabled people, can leave the building they control safely in the event of a fire. Where an employer or a service provider does not make provision for the safe evacuation of disabled people from its premises, this may be viewed as discrimination. It may also constitute a failure to comply with the requirements of the fire safety legislation mentioned above.
Under the order, anyone who has control of premises or anyone who has a degree of control over certain areas may be a 'responsible person' who has responsibility for the safety of the employees and other building users by effectively managing:

Horizontal escape

Horizontal travel routes must be free from obstacles, such as steps or raised thresholds, which delay or impede travel in emergency evacuation or escape. Where such obstacles occur, a ramp should be provided (see 6.2 Ramps).

Vertical escape

Evacuation lifts

An evacuation lift must meet to the requirements of the box car lift (see 6.7 Lifts) in addition:

Stairs and ramps

The standard requirements for ramps, steps and stairs must be met. (see 6.3 Steps and stairs and 6.4 Handrails).

The maximum height of a stair-riser on upward escape stairs is 180mm.

Handrails on escape stairs and ramps should mark the direction of escape with an arrow on the top face. At the final storey the handrail should have "Exit" marked.

Where there is a stairlift fitted to a stairway the width of the escape stairway must be equal to the minimum required width for means of escape plus the width of any stairlift. Stairlifts should not be used as a means of escape.


For people unable to use stairs without assistance, one or more refuge points must be provided on all storeys affected, to allow disabled people a place of safety until assistance arrives. The use of refuges is not ideal, and evacuation lifts should be provided wherever possible. It can be extremely distressing for disabled people to wait in a refuge area during a fire or bomb alert.

A refuge area must be surrounded by fire-resisting construction and provide a direct route to the storey exit.

Refuges should be positioned:

Refuges should not be positioned:

Refuges need not be positioned in storeys with a floor area of less than 280 square metres in buildings which have only basement, ground and first floors in one occupancy.

The minimum area of a refuge point should be 1400mm x 900mm.

A refuge point must be provided with an evacuation chair and identified people trained in its use., e.g. a Type A chair to BS 5568. Evacuation chairs are now available which can be operated safely by one person. An appropriate evacuation aid must be provided to assist evacuation from a lower/basement level.

Fire/evacuation alarm signals and lighting

Alarm systems should incorporate the use of flashing lights or paging/vibrating units to alert hearing impaired people. The latter are emergency alert systems which use radio transmitters to activate miniature receivers worn by deaf people. The receivers vibrate to attract attention, and display messages. Such systems can provide safer, cost effective cover at larger public buildings and complexes, and for places of employment where separate rooms or features such as shelving may limit the effectiveness of conventional alarm systems.

Powered way guidance lighting systems help visually impaired people when leaving buildings in an emergency, in addition to conventional overhead lighting.

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