News:

Upon receiving Royal Assent on 29th April 2021, the Fire Safety Act 2021 and Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 officially came into law last week on 16th May 2022 for England and Wales.

Amending the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, this new legislation introduces further clarification of the duties of building owners, highlighting that ‘responsible persons’ for residential buildings which are multi-occupied must manage fire safety to the extent that, in addition to providing suitable egress equipment for residents, must also reduce the risk in all other aspects within the building structure.

The legislation notes specific areas of attention such as cladding, balconies, windows, and entrance doors into private flats that connect to common, public parts as points of interest. The legislation applies, in addition to residencies, to all workplaces.

A man guides a female evacuee down an indoor flight of stairs

Direct Access recently wrote on our blog about the government’s failures to provide consultation between building owners and disabled people in relation to tower block evacuation, the very same kind of consultation, which had it been implemented at the time, might have avoided the deaths of over 70 people at Grenfell Tower.

This new legislation has been introduced as a step forward and response to that tragedy, and its guidelines provide sophisticated fire safety measures which are expected to be applied to residential buildings of any kind. Depending on the scale and height of the building the rules slightly differ, but fundamental provisions apply such as providing a fire risk assessment, providing information to residents relating to evacuation such as instructions on fire door usage and location, as well as inclusive and up to date evacuation equipment.

Teddy bear sat on a gate alongside other memorial items with Grenfell Tower London in the background

Providing information to residents about correct evacuation procedures probably sounds easy in concept, but the reality is much more complex. The brutal truth of it is that many people who live in tower blocks are disabled, so providing a small A4 sheet won’t cut it.

What’s more is that Disability Rights UK has identified conclusively that nearly half of everyone in poverty is a disabled person, and therefore are more likely to live in council housing or tower blocks than a non-disabled person. These shared residences are often the least robust when it comes to safety measures, and therefore disabled people are for a multitude of reasons, more at risk.

It is the responsibility of building owners to reduce the risk for their residents, and knowledge about what to do is the key to the reassurance. Therefore, they must consider the full range of disabilities out there. Some residents in a building might be colour blind, so communication information through colour must be avoided. For blind and near-sighted residents, are the information sheets available in large print or braille? In an emergency situation, what would a mobility-impaired person do to access step-free egress when the lift is shut down? Providing information in accessible formats has been identified as the solution to this problem.

Responsible Persons must also install and maintain a secure information box in their buildings. This box must contain the name and contact details of said Responsible Person and hard copies of the building floor plans for the benefit of their residents or staff.

Multi-Comfort Evacuation Chair model on a walkway in the sunshine

The principle evacuation equipment scattered across a building is another obvious point of concern of the new law. In many buildings, evacuation chairs are left to gather dust, so people aren’t even aware of their location, because they so often get thrown away in a closet or left in an inconspicuous bag on the corner of a stairwell. In these situations, if users can even find the chair, the idea that they will know how to despatch and use one is highly unlikely. Providing high visibility evacuation equipment, as well as staff training in evacuation is necessary.

In addition, wayfinding signage to identify the floor and flat numbers and evacuation signs will also be required. These must be of clear visibility to all residents in low lighting and smoky conditions, regardless of their specific sightedness capability.

Evacuation Chair in an orange bag hanging on a brick wall next to a stairwell

Of course, this doesn’t come close to the full picture of considerations. We haven’t even discussed how fire doors must be quarterly checked, and flat entrance doors annually. The list of considerations goes on, so for a truly comprehensive idea, we strongly recommend building owners familiarise themselves with the legislation provided on the Government’s website.

In addition, Direct Access recommends carrying out an annual accessibility audit to determine how accessible and inclusive your evacuation procedure is to potential residents of your building. We pride ourselves on considering the full range of the disability spectrum, and employ disabled people with personal experience and knowledge of physical and neurological conditions to install and service our unique, disability inclusive Evacuation equipment. Working to the finest detail provided by the Government, we will guarantee resident safety meets best practice standards.

Get in touch with our team today for a quote and an accessibility audit checklist, free of charge.

We are here to help, because for us, access is personal.

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Direct Access Consultancy Limited
Room 2, Regent House
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Beam Heath Way
Nantwich, CW5 6PQ.

Tel: 0845 056 4421.

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