Evacuation Chairs – What you need to know.
In this blog post I’m going to talk about evacuation chairs. There are lots of makes and models of evacuation chair on the market. You have probably already seen some in publicly accessible buildings such as hospitals, hotels, sports grounds and arenas; I’ve even seen one in my local Costa Coffee shop. In which case you might be wondering what an evacuation chair does, who it’s for and how you use it? So let’s start with the basics.
What is an emergency evacuation chair?
Put simply, an evacuation chair is a mechanical means of transporting somebody out of a building or to a safe place. Much of this movement will be down stairwells, but you might also need to transfer the person along corridors as well.
Generally speaking, evacuation chairs are made from lightweight steel and have rubber tracks attached to the back of them along with wheels at the front. The tracks are used to slide along the nose of stairs and create friction within the chair mechanism, allowing the chair to descend the stairs in a safe and controlled way. Some models even employ the use of electric motors to power the chair down flights of stairs and along corridors.
The chairs wheels are then used to move the chair when travelling along a flat surface, such as the corridor leading to or from the staircase. You might have also seen another design of chair being used to evacuate people from buildings such as the type employed by ambulance crew. Technically these aren’t evacuation chairs, but patient transfer chairs and require a minimum of two people to operate them safely as well as the use of manual handling techniques.
Evacuation chairs are generally only used when;
- there is a fire within the building,
- there’s an explosion or terrorist attack,
- there’s been significant storm damage to the building, or
- as a result of a service failure (e.g. lifts, escalators, etc).
Naturally you shouldn’t use the buildings lifts during a fire and most lifts are programmed to descend to the ground floor when the fire alarm is activated.
Evacuation chairs are typically used for transporting:
- those who are mobility impaired,
- those with visual impairment,
- pregnant ladies,
- asthmatic people,
- the elderly,
- those with hearing impaired (can affect balance),
- people with heart conditions,
- the injured,
- people with a temporary impairment (e.g. inebriated customers in a stadium, assuming their transport does not put the chair operator at disproportionate risk).
Do I need to help people out of the building in an emergency?
Yes you do. The Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 Section 2(1) places a general duty on employers to “ensure, so far as reasonable practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”. This duty also extends to visitors and contractors.
If we look at the example of building fire, in England and Wales, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, identifies a specific role known as the “Responsible Person”. This person is responsible for fire safety at a businesses or other non-domestic premises.
Non-domestic premises are defined within the Order as being;
- all workplaces and commercial premises,
- all premises where the public have access,
- the common areas of multi-occupied residential buildings.
The Responsible Person.
The Responsible Person will either be;
- the employer, or
- the owner, or
- the landlord, or
- an occupier, or
- anyone else with control of the premises, for example a facilities manager, building manager, managing agent or risk assessor.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 also applies when you have paying guests, for example if you run a bed and breakfast, a guest-house or let a self-catering property.
Where there is more than one “responsible person”, they have to work together to meet their responsibilities (e.g. in a shared office building). Where there are common or shared areas, the responsible person will be the landlord, freeholder or managing agent.
The “Responsible Person” is legally required to;
- carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises and review it regularly,
- tell staff or their representatives about the risks they’ve identified,
- put in place, and maintain, appropriate fire safety measures,
- plan for an emergency (i.e. create an Emergency Evacuation Plan and where appropriate a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan for disabled people),
- provide staff information, fire safety instruction and training.
It’s estimated that there are over 7.5 million people within the UK aged between 16 and 64 who have some form of disability. As such any premises where there is a likelihood that people who may need assistance in evacuation from the building, the responsible person may determine that investment in an evacuation chair and the training to use it safely is the preferred means of evacuation for those people.
There are many different makes and models of evacuation chair on the market, one of the most popular being the Evac+Chair 300H which has been around for many years now & is available is several different versions. You’ve probably seen some of them hung on walls before; it’s the one with the blue metal frame and the soft yellow plastic dust cover draped over the top, like the one below.
One thing that does need to be remembered is that evacuation chairs are only there to take people down stairs; they can’t be used to go upstairs, despite what some manufacturers claim! So once you’ve taken somebody down in the chair, it has to be carried back up the stairs again. The easiest way to do this is to fold them up again.
What do I need to know about evacuation chairs?
First and foremost, evacuation chairs need to be sited reasonably close to the staircase where they will be used, or near to the individual who will be travelling in the chair.
As you can imagine, for the average employee, the prospect of controlling the descent a colleague (or complete stranger) who may weigh well in excess of 10 stone, down a flight of stairs in an evacuation chair can be a daunting prospect. Now put yourself in the position of the person being evacuated, and the thought of being potentially manhandled into something that resembles a wheeled deckchair with tank tracks on the back can be terrifying.
That’s why having proper training of staff and volunteers is an absolute necessity as well as a legal requirement. (Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998)
So if you’ve not been trained in how to use an evacuation chair, you shouldn’t be using one.
In addition to manual handling training, evacuation chairs are classified as a Class 1 medical device under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER). As such the Responsible Person has a legal obligation to ensure adequate staff training as well as annual servicing of the evacuation chair by a qualified and insured service engineer. Without this they are leaving themselves open to prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive.
Training for you & your colleagues.
We offer both an in-house evacuation chair user & assistant training courses as we’ll shortly be offering an accredited evacuation chair “train the trainer” course. Both of these courses run at our training centre and nationwide at your own place of work.
Many clients prefer to have their colleagues trained in their own premises using their own evacuation chairs, as this provides staff with hands-on knowledge of the available equipment. This is perhaps the ideal scenario for clients as it will promote team working as well as giving the staff confidence in the equipment and their own abilities.
If you’d like us to use your evacuation chairs during training, we just need to see a copy of the maintenance certificates for the chairs. This should have been issued by a competent service engineer within the preceding 11 month period. Unfortunately, if the evacuation chairs haven’t been serviced in the last 11 months, for insurance reasons we can’t use them during the course, so would have to use our own chairs which might be slightly different and for which there is a small charge.
So who & how many people should be trained?
Our courses are designed for those with no prior experience of using evacuation chairs. What we would say though is that a reasonable level of physical fitness & strength is required to use the chairs safely (despite what some manufacturers claim!).
Evacuation chair operators of a petite stature (under approx 5’5″/165cm) tend to ensure a swift delivery of the evacuee to the bottom of the stairs & as such may prefer to be certified as an evacuation chair assistant rather than operator. Those with back problems, mobility issues or who have a nervous disposition will probably find this course challenging, so might not be your first choice for training.
The answer to how many people should be trained isn’t quite so easy to answer. If you have someone permanently residing within the building (e.g. residential premises) who would need assistance evacuating the building, then you’d need sufficient trained personnel to assist that person. Depending on that person they may require one, two or more people. You’d also need to think about shift patterns, holidays, lunch breaks, etc. and have that many trained personnel on site at all times. Similarly, numbers of trained personnel will also depend on the size of the premises and distribution of the workforce & visitors, etc.
Also, is it really reasonable to expect members of staff to return into a building to assist multiple evacuees?
Although somewhat out of date (making reference to the Disability and Discrimination Act 1995 which was repealed in 2010 when replaced by the Equality Act 2010), the Fire Safety Supplementary Guide “Means of escape for disabled people” (2013) does provide a lot of information which is still current and very useful when planning escape methodologies for employees, visitors, contractors and residents.
I highly recommend that you make reference to this document & its related fire safety risk assessment documents (links below), when devising your building evacuation plans.
Offices and shops (ISBN-13:9781851128150)
Factories and warehouses (ISBN-13:9781851128167)
Sleeping accommodation (ISBN-13:9781851128174)
Residential care premises (ISBN-13:9781851128181)
Educational premises (ISBN-13:9781851128198)
Small and medium places of assembly (ISBN-13:9781851128204)
Large places of assembly (ISBN-13:9781851128211)
Theatres, cinemas and similar premises (ISBN-13:9781851128228)
Open air events and venues (ISBN-13:9781851128235)
Healthcare premises (ISBN-13:9781851128242)
Transport premises and facilities (ISBN-13:9781851128259)
I genuinely hope that you’ve found this blog post helpful and informative. If you’ve enjoyed this post or have any questions, please feel free to leave a reply below.