Issue 61 of International Fire Protection Magazine: Planning for Evacuating People with Disability

International Fire Protection March 2015 Cover

International Fire Protection March 2015 Lee Wilson Planning for Evacuating PWDLast year I was fortunate to have been asked to write an article for the Asia Pacific Fire Magazine, which I submitted for review late in the year. The article has now been published in the International Fire Protection Magazine.

You can now download a copy of the article by clicking the image above or this link

The following is an extract of the opening of the article:

A gap exists in many countries legislative framework relating to the evacuation of people with disability under disability discrimination, building and workplace safety laws. This gap exposes those members of the community with disability, particularly those with sensory or mobility disabilities to the risk of being delayed in their ability to evacuate a building or being entrapped within a building.

 In 1997 the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) acknowledged this gap and recognised the need to improve the provisions for access and emergency egress for people with disability. The ABCB published RD 97/01, Provisions for People with Disabilities, a Regulatory Document which proposed an amendment to the Building Code of Australia (the ‘BCA’). The proposed amendments included radical changes to the access and egress provisions, including the requirement for accessible exits or places of safe refuge, or a combination of the two. Most of the access provisions proposed at that time were subsequently introduced into Volume 1 of the 2011 edition of the BCA, part of the National Construction Code. The access provisions have generally remained unchanged in subsequent editions of the BCA.

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The ABCB Regulation Document RD 97/01 included recommendations for egress provisions relating to places of safe refuge and enhanced notification systems. Contrary to the access provisions adopted in BCA 2011, the proposed emergency egress provisions detailed within RD 97/01 had not been addressed until the 2013 edition of the BCA introduced very limited exit provisions to assist people with disability.

Research commissioned by the ABCB in 2005 discussing the challenges of a vertical evacuation path highlighted that any new provisions to be introduced into the BCA would be “very complex considering the numerous building, system and configuration scenario”. For these reasons, it is understood that the ABCB has adopted a strategy to stage the introduction of enhanced egress provisions into the BCA.

The current Australian regulatory environment equates to new and refurbished buildings being inclusive and accessible, with little consideration to how to get everybody out during an emergency. It is my belief that there remains a substantial gap within the legal framework that is ultimately exposing building occupants to an undue risk. This is due to a failure to fully consider everyone’s needs, particularly those people facing a vertical evacuation path within a multi-storey building.

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