People With Special Needs

Of all the people who may be especially at risk you will need to pay particular attention to people who may have special needs, including those with disability. The disability rights commission estimates that 11 million people in the UK have some form of disability, which may mean they find it more difficult to leave a building if there is a fire.

Under the disability Discrimination act, if disabled people could realistically expect to use your premises, then you must anticipate any reasonable adjustments that would make it easier for that right to be exercised. The disability Discrimination act includes the concept of "reasonable adjustments" and this can be carried over into fire safety law. It can mean different things in different circumstances.

For a small business, it may be considered reasonable to provide contrasting colours on a handrail to help those with vision impairment to follow an escape route more easily. However, it might be unreasonable to expect that same business to install an expensive voice-alarm system. Appropriate "reasonable adjustments" for a large business or organisation may be much more significant.

If disabled people are going to be in your premises then you must provide a safe means for them to leave if there is a fire. You and your staff should be aware that disabled people may not react, or can react differently, to a fire warning or small fire. You should give similar consideration to others with special needs such as parents with young children or the elderly.

In premises with a simple layout, a common-sense approach, such as offering to help lead a blind person or helping an elderly person down steps may be enough. In more complex premises, more elaborate plans and procedures will be needed, with trained staff assigned to specified duties. In this case you may also wish to contact a professional consultant or take advice from disability organisations.

Consider the needs of those with mental disabilities or spatial recognition problems. The range of disabilities encountered can be considerable, extending from mild epilepsy to complete disorientation in an emergency situation. Many can be addressed by properly trained staff, discreet and empathetic use of the "buddy system" or by careful planning of colour and texture to identify escape routes.

Where people with special needs use or work in the premises, their needs should, so far as practical, be discussed with them. These will often be modest and may require only changes or modifications to existing procedures. You may need to develop individual "personal emergency evacuation plans" (PEEPs) for disabled people who frequently use a building. They will need to be confident of any plan/PEEP that is put in place after consultation with them.

As part of the consultation exercise you will need to consider the matter of personal dignity. If members of the public use your building then you may need to develop a range of standard PEEPs which can be provided on request to a disabled person or others with special needs. Guidance on removing barriers to the everyday needs of disabled people is in BS 8300. Much of this advice will also help disabled people during an evacuation.