An accessible means of egress has best been defined as a “continuous and unobstructed way of egress travel from any point in a building or facility that provides an accessible route to an area of refuge, a horizontal exit, or a public way”. I like to think of it as a way out for all occupants, regardless of their abilities.
Parts of an Accessible Means of Egress
The International Building Code 2009 says that there are key parts of an accessible means of egress, and these can include one or more of the following components:
- Accessible routes, including horizontal exits, and ramps
- Internal and external exit stairs
- Evacuation lifts
- Platform lifts
- Refuge Areas
My book, “Evacuation of People with Disability & Emergent Limitations: Considerations for Safer Buildings & Efficient Evacuations” discusses this in detail. There are many issues that are not considered and are ultimately putting building occupants at risk when they face barriers during an evacuation of a building.
The situation in Australia is that people with disability are not always provided an accessible means of egress out of a building. When they are provided an accessible means of egress it is generally only due to being able to evacuate via the same accessible entrance they came in through when they entered the building. This restricts some occupants from evacuating safely unless they are on an entry level at the time of the emergency sounding. Not an acceptable situation if a person with mobility limitations is on an upper or lower level of the building. As we know, passenger lifts are generally not to be used during an emergency and the only other option would then be the fire escape stairs.
So at the moment a person with a mobility impairment may be trapped within a building unable to continue their evacuation independently. They will be put into a comprising position of having to stop near a fire stairs and wait for assistance whilst potentially obstructing exit landings and the path for other occupants evacuating the building. Australian buildings are not required to have smoke resistant or fire resistant areas of refuge, so where should a person wait safely? In a tall building it could be some time before the fire brigade arrive to provide that assistance – will they remain safe during this time?
Australia needs Changes to Legislation
This risk for building occupants is not acceptable. Why can most occupants safely leave the building, yet others are told to wait for assistance. Please read my guidebook to identify opportunities to reduce this risk, not just for the occupants, but also managers of workplaces and buildings.
We need to plan for the safe evacuation of all occupants and though a holistic approach must be adopted, including good planning, the use of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (or PEEPs) and awareness and familiarity with evacuation drills is important, the components and structure of a building play an important part in the complex jigsaw puzzle of providing a good solution.
My next blog will discuss some of these accessible building features that can help improve egress for all, and provide that illusive Australian Accessible Means of Egress.