In the event of an emergency such as a fire, earthquake, hurricane, tornado or something as simple as a power outage due to a fault or load shedding, elevators should not be used in multistorey buildings. In the event of such an emergency, people living with a disability or who are injured or unconscious may become trapped. If a person’s capability to evacuate is impaired by a medical condition like heightened anxiety or having to exert themselves by using stairs in a bit of a hurry, then assistance might also need to be provided.
The question is often asked: Whose responsibility is it to ensure that evacuation safety equipment such as evacuation chairs are installed and maintained for use in emergency situations in their buildings and work spaces? Is it the responsibility of the tenant/employer or the building owner?
The SANS 10400: Part T – Fire Protection, states that the responsibility rests with the property owners and property management companies, that their occupants or people using their building will be protected – including persons with disabilities.
Adv. Raynard Looch of Klass Looch Associates says:
“The OHS Act primarily places duties on employers which could include tenants or even landlords who employ management companies.
Sections eight and nine place a duty of care on employers vis-à-vis employees and non-employees including persons with disabilities. In relation to fire evacuations cognisance must be taken of persons with disabilities and, although evacuation chairs are not prescribed specifically, it would seem to be to me a reasonably practicable solution in this regard.
Naturally, there are other pieces of legislation and regulations applicable to owners of buildings but my focus will be the OHS Act – the sections mentioned above as well as Environmental Regulation nine.”
ER 9. Fire precautions and means of egress
1). In order to expedite the evacuation of a workplace in case of fire, every employer shall ensure that –
(a) any emergency escape door from any room or passage or at a staircase shall, as far as practicable, be hung so as to open outwards;
(b) every door of a room in which persons may be present, and every door of a passage or at a staircase serving as a means of exit from such room, shall be kept clear and capable of being easily and readily opened from inside so as to ensure quick and easy evacuation;
(c) the provision of paragraphs (a) and (b) shall also be complied with in respect of the outer escape exit from the workplace;
(d) staircases and steps leading from one floor to another or to the ground shall be provided with substantial hand rails;
(e) staircases intended to be used as fire escapes shall –
(i) be constructed of non-combustible material;
(ii) be kept clear of any material or other obstruction; and
(iii) not terminate in an enclosed area;
(f) staircases, passages and exits intended for escape purposes shall be of a width and of a gradient which will facilitate the quick and safe egress of the number of persons intended to make use of them; and
(g) having regard to the size, construction and location of a workplace, the number of persons, and the activity therein, such workplace is provided with at least two means of egress situated as far apart as is practicable.
2). Having regard to the size, construction and location of the workplace, and the amount and type of flammable articles used, handled or stored on the premises, an employer shall provide on the premises an adequate supply of suitable firefighting equipment at strategic locations or as may be recommended by the fire chief of the local authority concerned, and such equipment shall be maintained in good working order.
Extract from the Department of Labour:
“Technical Assistance Guidelines on the Employment of People with Disabilities.” – Chapter 6. paragraph 3.8 – Health and Safety.
“According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer is obligated to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe to all employees. As part of any ongoing health and safety audit, the needs of employees with disabilities must be included. Evacuation procedures should take into account any specific or additional measures to ensure that an employee with a disability is safely evacuated from a building or work site during emergencies.”
The OHS Act places the responsibility on the employer to ensure that evacuation plans, routes, training and equipment are provided. As pointed out in the above Department of Labour’s additional measures are to be in place for evacuation of people with disabilities.
Legal advice has interpreted that the employer (who may be the tenant) is primarily responsible, but that the onus is often transferred to the landlord in terms of a lease agreement, and costs are included in rentals. The responsibility of an evacuation procedure of the disabled in multistorey buildings such as office blocks, hotels, apartment blocks, shopping centres, etc. rests with the building owners/managers/body corporate or any other type of body which has the responsibility for the safety, maintenance of such buildings.
Evac+Chair – South Africa is the local manufacturer and distributor of the world’s number one stairway evacuation chair since 1982. Our range of evacuation safety chairs are the perfect solution; they are lightweight and easy to use devices which glide effortlessly down stairways to assist with the quick and safe removal of people who are mobility impaired in the event of an emergency evacuation. Described as a ‘lifeboat for skyscrapers’ in the Journal of the Industrial Designers Society of America, the Evac+Chair was invented with the specific aim of helping to save the lives of disabled people in an emergency and has earned its place in the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York for doing just that.