Following the events of the Grenfell Tower fire, the ensuing inquest found that 41% of those who died were disabled and there was little or no planning in place for the evacuation of disabled residents . As the government says it is continuing to consult on the broader issue, Elspeth Grant, PEEPs expert advisor at Triple A Solutions, outlines the broader legal responsibilities associated with evacuation planning for people with disabilities that property owners buildings, security managers, responsible persons and all those involved in fire safety must take into consideration.
There are approximately 14.6 million people with disabilities in the UK. This means that one in five people in the UK are disabled, with a higher percentage of people living in social housing.
Able-bodied people would not agree to live in a building from which there was no escape and, if so, swift enforcement action would undoubtedly ensue. However, disabled people who are unable to evacuate the building without the use of a fire-protected elevator, are forced to accept this situation. They have no choice but to remain in immediate danger until the fire and rescue services (FRS) are able to intervene.
Fire safety professionals are specialists in their own discipline, particularly in relation to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO). However, when providing advice or recommendations to clients, many professionals fail to consider the legal requirements of the Equality Act 2010, the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) and the 1974 on health safety at work.
Implementing Building Regulations Part M requirements can also help to mitigate inconvenience to people with disabilities during an evacuation.
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 (EA) defines people with disabilities as a ‘protected characteristic’. The EA prohibits discrimination with respect to anything arising from a person’s disability and creates an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. With regard to public services and functions, the duty to make reasonable accommodations rests with persons with disabilities in general and is anticipatory.
Although it may be considered unreasonable to install a fire-protected lift or second stairwell, it is likely to be considered reasonable to ensure that escape routes comply with the requirements of the part M of the building regulations and to provide a disabled person with an assisted evacuation device.
It should be noted that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has advised people with disabilities that assisted evacuation devices may be considered a reasonable adjustment in a compensation claim.
The duty to make reasonable accommodations is anticipatory in that it requires considering the barriers that prevent people with disabilities and acting accordingly before an individual person with a disability seeks to use the service:
Annex 2: public services and functions –
“As the duty is owed to people with disabilities in general, it is a duty of anticipation which means that service providers and people performing public functions must anticipate the needs of people with disabilities and make appropriate reasonable adjustments.
This is a duty to people with disabilities as a whole, which applies regardless of whether the service provider knows that a particular person has a disability or whether the building currently has people with disabilities.
Service providers cannot wait until a person with a disability wants to use a service they provide before considering their duty to make reasonable accommodations. They must anticipate the needs of people with disabilities and the accommodations that may be necessary for them. When a person with a disability requests a service, the service provider must already have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that they can be served. Waiting for a person with a disability to self-identify before implementing a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) risks being sued under EA for discrimination and breach of duty of care. ‘anticipation.
Anyone involved in fire safety should be aware that successful compensation claims for EA breaches are based on the Vento scale, with the upper end being between £29,600 and £49,300 (this has been increased in April 2022) where there is ongoing discrimination causing stress.