Accessible Means of Emergency Egress

Accessible emergency egress is becoming an increasingly contentious topic.  The latest 2013 revision of the BCA has incorporated performance requirements with the intention of facilitating accessible egress under DP4, DP6, DP7 and EP3.3:

DP4

Exits must be provided from a building to allow occupants to evacuate safely, with their number, location and dimensions being appropriate to –

(b) the number, mobility and other characteristics of occupants.

 

DP6

So that occupants can safely evacuate the building, paths of travel to exists must have dimensions appropriate to –

(a) the number, mobility and other characteristics of occupants.

 

DP7

Where a lift is intended to be used in addition to the required exists to assist occupants to evaluate a building safely, the type, number, location and fire0isolation must be appropriate to –

(b) the number, mobility and other characteristics of occupants.

 

EP3.3

Signs or other means must be provided to alert occupants about the use of a lift during an emergency.

DP4 and DP6 sets up for a broad range of options to ensure accessible egress whilst DP7 and EP3.3 allows for the possibility to develop Alternative Solutions in allowing the use of passenger lifts during an evacuation.  However, the problem with the BCA is that it is not prescriptive in what defines an appropriate accessible means of egress.

Furthermore, councils are becoming more aware of emergency egress provisions for persons with a disability:

  • Sydney Olympic Park Authority Access DCP has, since 2011, been asking for accessible emergency egress or fire evacuation refuge areas with additional management plans to assist the evacuation of people with a disability. 
  • The amended City of Sydney DCP 2012 integrates a vague requirement for “required egress routes in residential development[s]… to allow for safe escape for persons with a disability including, but not limited to, waiting space on landings within fire stairs and provision of accessible egress paths from ground floor apartments.”

Council requirements for emergency egress provisions are more often than not creating more confusion with more questions arising than solutions.  In considering the above council requirements, no mention of point of choice or travel distances are provided.  Nor do we have a clear definition of “safe escapes” – do muster points with sprinklers count?  How about smoke compartments and breezeways as safety refuges?  How do we employ emergency call buttons?  Are they even required? 

Whilst emergency egress provisions are not new – in fact, Australia trails the western world in regards to accessible egress solutions which is addressed by the British Standard, American Standard, International Building Code and the New Zealand Building Code, to name a few – there is still a lack of prescriptive requirements within Australian legislation to provide a consistent approach to accessible egress.

What needs to be understood is that, emergency egress is not limited to designed and engineered solutions, but needs to take into consideration human psychology within an emergency situation.  When dealing with accessible egress, there are two main approaches:

  1. Fire refuge areas – this involves providing “suitable” waiting spaces for persons with a mobility impairment so that they can be rescued when appropriate.  Obviously this is quite a controversial option as whilst building occupants are asked to evacuate the building, the person with a disability is asked to stay behind albeit in a safe zone.  Many argue that persons with a disability should be given the same option of leaving the building so to ensure equal opportunities for fire safety and evacuation.
  2. Fire-isolated passenger lifts for egress – used as a means to evacuate people with mobility impairments within high-rise constructions overseas, passenger lifts can, when designed correctly, be an effective and safe method.  It can also be used by emergency personnel to assist evacuees accordingly.  The difficulty arises in that traditionally, people have long been trained to not use passenger lifts in the event of an emergency.  In fact, the BCA dictates that a sign should be located adjacent to the passenger lifts to warn people away from using lifts.  Additionally, passenger lift travel and waiting times will also mean congesting the lifts.

At the moment, there are no clear rules as to how to provide suitable accessible means of egress.  There are general assumptions one can make when designing suitable accessible egress:

Fire refuge areas

Provide a minimum 800mm x 1300mm clearance suitable for a wheelchair as per AS1428.1.

Within fire stairs, provide a clearance of 1000mm outside of the escape route as we AS1428.1 and the BCA.

Fire refuge areas should have equivalent levels of safety as a fire stair.  For example, if a lobby area is proposed to be designed as a safe waiting space, smoke refuge will not be sufficient.

Passenger lifts

All lifts are to be accessible under BCA requirements.

Something to note is that lobby areas should have a suitable level of fire and smoke protection when waiting for lifts to arrive.  This may involve fire rated walls/doors/etc. and sprinkler systems.

With most instances, a management plan will be required to ensure appropriate procedures for evacuation, however this may be more difficult in residential areas where no fire wardens or similar are appointed. 

The difficulty with ensuring accessible requirements for emergency egress is that access consultants are not armed with the knowledge and expertise in fire engineering.  In determining what suitable solutions to these areas are, we require the assistance and cooperation of other consultants to ensure an appropriate degree of safety is ensured in each proposal. 

As with all instances, each project should be judged on its own merits, however with legislation catching up to demand, more thought should be put on determining appropriate means of egress that is inclusive of everyone.

Post by Queenie Tran

Posted by mgac on Mon, 19 Aug 2013 15:08