Direct Access has recently learned that the government repeatedly failed to seek the views of disabled people and their organisations about how residents with physical impairments could evacuate tower blocks in an emergency, six years before the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Louise Upton, who was head of fire safety policy at the time for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), admitted to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week that she and colleagues ignored one of the most important elements of creating evacuation plans, namely, consulting with disabled residents and disability organisations to determine safe evacuation procedure.
Upton was grilled about the process of producing Grenfell’s fire safety guide for the Local Government Association. However, when the guidance was published in 2011, it stated that it was “usually unrealistic” to expect landlords to cater to disabled people’s needs in mainstream tower blocks and flats in the case of emergencies.
Six years later, with the guidance still in place, 72 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire, including two-fifths of its disabled residents.
When asked whether the authorities went beyond guidance at the time to create and maintain safety and accessibility for all, she recognised the concerns but largely minimised the risk, due to the fact that her team “never anticipated a Grenfell”.
Throughout this inquiry, it is worth noting that Upton was tearful at various points, and acknowledged that her team could have used more resources. She also pointed to her team shrinking over time as a root cause, and the emphasis on restructuring workforce relationships and governance of fire and rescue authorities. Rooted in austerity and reckless regulation reform on part of the Government.
And she is not wrong. While Louise Upton and her team share a level of personal responsibility, the people that died were also undermined by the despicable actions of our Government.
Direct Access is proud to have witnessed a changing of the guard when it comes to the attitudes of local businesses and authorities. When it comes to accessibility consultancy and evacuation equipment provision, our services have never been so popular. Accessibility, in general, seems to be a more active conversation for many businesses and organisations. So the idea that the Grenfell Tower disaster could occur less than five years ago, directly as a result of primitive and backward Government guidance, is utterly baffling to us.
We do not want to witness another Grenfell in our lifetime, and the best way you can help to avoid this is by setting up evacuation plans for your own building premises. Direct Access is proud to offer evacuation plans, solutions, and strategies to avoid fires and protect the lives of disabled people. We also offer a detailed training course, which guides potential users through all stages of evacuation.
As part of our commitments to the community we serve, Direct Access employs a network of disabled field-based service engineers all around the UK, offering high-quality service maintenance to ensure that chairs are ready for use and reuse and are never left to gather dust on a stairwell.
If you need support developing a fire evacuation plan, or you have any other concerns about accessibility at your premises, feel free to get in touch with a member of our award-winning accessibility team.
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