Architects must check new regulations for disabled WCs, says Geoff Wilkinson
Over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly aware that architects have not spotted the changes introduced in BS 8300 (Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people), when it was revised earlier this year. As a consequence of this, many find themselves open to claims for failing to meet employer’s requirements.
First, I should point out that the Building Regulations do not require compliance with BS 8300: 2009, as Part M has not yet been updated and still reflects its previous incarnation. Therefore, it is quite possible to obtain Building Regulations consent without complying with the new standards, and indeed many building inspectors are themselves, unaware of the change.
The problem comes however, when you look at the fine print of Employer’s Requirements that architects sign up to, as these commonly require ‘compliance with the current British Standard’. In 99 cases out of 100, nobody ever checks that the design does conform to the current British Standard and I doubt if anyone would actually notice that the wrong specification for powder coating of door handles had been used. However, BS 8300 is one of those one-in-100 cases where you can find yourself on the wrong side of a large claim. Let me explain the background, what has changed and why it creates a problem.
November 19 has been designated as World Toilet Day in order to raise awareness that, although access to a WC is a marker of basic human rights and dignity, this very right is denied to millions around the world. Most regard this as a third-world problem, but in the UK, there are an estimated 4 million people with basic continence problems, many of whom have physical or mental impairments, which affects their ability to use a WC without assistance. As a consequence, BS 8300 introduced the need to provide Changing Places - sanitary facilities for severely disabled people. Changing Places are required in all new public buildings including shopping centres, cinemas and schools as well as hotels.
More importantly, these should be provided in addition to, and not instead of, the standard sanitary facilities for disabled people. The space and equipment requirements for Changing Places are not insubstantial, with a recommended size of 4x3m in plan and a ceiling height of 2.4m, while the list of required equipment includes a hoist and an adult-sized changing table intended for assisted use and plenty of space. Clearly this is not something that can be easily incorporated at the 11th hour, if it was not allowed for in the original space’s planning and costs.
To many, this may seem like a sledgehammer to crack a walnut, but few realise the problems disabled people and their carers are faced with every day. I would urge you all to look at the rather graphic video run by Mencap on the campaigns page of their website, to gain an understanding into just how difficult it can be to use a standard disabled toilet.
As a result of the Mencap campaign, access groups across the country are on the alert to ensure that Changing Places are provided in all new buildings and will be quick to complain where they are not. Faced with the public-relations disaster that could follow, most clients will quickly reproach the design team and any lawyer worth his salt will spot that ‘latest standard’ clause in the employer’s requirements, with a claim sure to follow. In fact, I am led to believe there is already one case where a firm of architects - who will remain nameless - is facing such a claim.
There are some other changes to BS 8300, including revisions to the acceptable number of accessible rooms in hotels, but that, dear readers, as they say, is a story for another day!
Geoff Wilkinson is a building regulations expert and former vice-chair of the Association of Consulting Approved Inspectors (ACAI)