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A new draft of bs5588: Part 8, the standard for means of escape for disabled people, puts a new focus on the manageability of buildings Managing to escape

CI/SfB (U35)

When it was published in 1988, bs5588: Part 8 was a response to the introduction of Part M of the Building Regulations on access for people with disabilities. However, the standard's provisions were substantially incorporated in Part B (Fire) in 1992 and so were seen as applying both to new construction and to the alteration of existing buildings. Part M applies only to new build.

The standard also recognised that not everyone could escape from a building under their own power. Building owners and managers were required to put in place procedures to help people with disabilities to escape. In doing this the standard introduced the concepts of progressive evacuation, the refuge and the evacuation lift, as well as establishing continuing responsibilities for escape after building completion.

In that sense the 1988 standard was more in tune with current developments such as the Disability Discrimination Act (dda) than with Part M and the anticipated revision to bs5810: 1979 Code of Practice for Access for the Disabled to Buildings, neither of which include continuing building use and facilities management.

The code in practice

An especially valuable alteration in this draft standard for public comment* is its structuring into statements of principles followed by commentary and then recommendations. The commentary sections are particularly helpful in demonstrating the thinking behind proposals. It is to be hoped that some form of commentary will be included in the final document.

Section 2 of the draft now includes expanded provisions plus commentaries on refuges, evacuation lifts, storey exits, two-stage fire alarms, installation of wheelchair stairlifts and provision of fire safety signs. There are also useful references to other standards and statutory requirements.

The draft clearly places a new duty on building designers. Clause 4.4 states, 'Designers are advised to inform their clients of the nature, function and capabilities of the fire precautions that have been designed into the building, and especially those whose nature may be less evident.' The implications of this clause with respect to duties under the dda are very significant.

The draft is positive about the use of alarm-linked hold-open devices for doors, acknowledges the significance of related security requirements and discusses ways of ensuring that people with hearing impairments can be made aware of fire-alarm signals. Indeed, one of the standard's recommendations is that audible alarms should more generally be supplemented with visual alarms.

What is consistently pointed out is the need for designers to develop a dialogue with the building owner about how best to meet the requirements of people with disabilities. (In this context, it is surprising that there is no proposal on signalling for assistance from refuges.)

One requirement, in line with the newly-issued standards for health and safety at work, is that 'doors forming part of an escape route must open in the direction of means of escape'. However, for many historic buildings this will not be achievable.

While these are significant additions to the earlier sections, the more radical proposals are for building management. As the draft standard says, 'Management systems are an essential part of means of escape for disabled people . . . It is envisaged that those with responsibilities for the management of existing buildings would adopt the principles underlying this standard and its recommendations as part of their routine administrative procedures . . . to ensure the use of the building is facilitated, notwithstanding an individual's disability'. In other words, the draft sets out a standard for what is 'reasonable' building access, a concept used but undefined within the dda itself.

Section 3: Advice to Management covers: procedures in case of fire; techniques for evacuation of disabled people down (or) up stairways; management of evacuation lifts; and examples of fire-plan strategies in buildings provided with evacuation lifts.

This section alone opens up a whole new field of understanding of building design and management which is of major importance in relation to the dda, where the ultimate acceptability of compliance will be built up by case law - the act contains no specific standards of its own.

Far from imposing further constraints on designers, the draft standard offers scope for pragmatism and dialogue. It is an impressive document. It is to be hoped that the bsi committee about to start redrafting bs 5810 will be substantially influenced by it.

* bs5588 Fire Precautions in the Design, Construction and Use of Buildings: Part 8: 1988: Code of Practice for Means of Escape for Disabled People. Committee secretary G C Harris, BSI Head Office, 389 Chiswick High Road, London W4 4AL. Tel 0181 996 9000.

John Penton is a consultant architect

RECENTLY PUBLISHED

Domestic Automatic Doors and Windows for Use by Elderly and Disabled People: a Guide for Specifiers. S L Gavin. bre. From crc, tel 0171 505 6622. £19 plus £1.90 p&p.

Based on bre research, this guide takes a comprehensive view of automatic door and window opening systems. It covers panel, sliding and bi-folding doors and casement windows. The guide is useful if somewhat simplistic, good on manual hardware, the availability of grants and other information sources.

Emergency Lighting and Wayfinding Systems for Visually Impaired People. G M B Webber, M S Wright and G K Cook. bre Information Paper ip 9/97. From crc, tel 0171 505 6622. £3.50 plus 35p p&p.

These studies of using emergency lighting and wayfinding systems by visually impaired people conclude that unpowered photoluminescent systems are too dim to be used by visually impaired people. The paper warns too that overhead emergency lighting to the current recommendations of bs5266 Emergency Lighting is also inadequate for them and proposes a minimum of 3 lux along the centre line of the escape route.

AJ Readers' offer: £18.00 inc p&p for the two publications, from crc, tel 0171 505 6622.

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