Until now the legislative requirements provided little by way of identifying specific provisions for people with disabilities and emergency egress, with the exception of items such as wider and shorter egress paths in buildings such as aged care facilities and hospitals. Where lifts have been used in emergency situations they have generally been for emergency services only, leaving stair only access from all floors other than those directly connected to external ground levels.
People with mobility impairments, who are unable to use stairs, have therefore effectively been exposed to the immediate hazard while all other occupants have a means of escape from the source.
International Standards have long existed providing more holistic and functional solutions for a more diverse group of occupants. These included items such as visual and other auxiliary alarms; resting places along accessible egress paths; suitable way finding strategies; the use of lifts and the incorporation of fire and smoke isolated areas which connect to egress lifts and accessible egress paths. The current form of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) Performance Requirements however often precluded the introduction of such strategies.
ABCB and many other stakeholders have recognised this and through an investigative project aimed to address these issues, are now proposing some significant changes to this year’s BCA to better respond to the needs of people with disabilities.
Among the proposed changes is a new Performance Requirement (DP7) which is intended to facilitate the use of lifts to evacuate occupants from buildings in addition to traditional exits. ‘Deemed to Satisfy’ provisions have not been included to facilitate this change, however the possibility of developing suitable ‘alternative solutions’ now arises and encourages diverse inputs from Fire and Structural Engineers, Architects and Designers, Certifiers as well as Access Consultants.
In their recent BCA 2013 Information Seminars, ABCB have also flagged the publication of an information handbook ‘Lifts Used During Evacuation’ to assist relevant professionals and stakeholders in their development of alternative solutions. This is planned for publication closer to the time of the BCA’s publication (May 2013).
A number of ‘Deemed to Satisfy’ provisions are set to also be included to further address the accessibility of exits for egress. These include:
- Doors to egress paths were previously allowed to provide a 190mm threshold, these will now be required to provide a compliant (i.e. AS 1428.1:2009) threshold ramp or step ramp;
- Stair and ramp exits serving accessible areas will now require at least one AS 1428.1:2009 compliant handrail;
- Door furniture to egress doors will now be required to be accessible and located at a height of 900mm to 1200mm above the finished floor level;
- Braille and tactile signage will be required to identify exit doors and the associated Specification (D3.6) will also be amended to clarify the location of these signs.
The BCA is published in May each year, and all buildings designed after this date will of course need to implement the aforementioned requirements. These changes represent a significant step forward for people with disabilities and the comfort and dignity afforded to them in buildings intended for the public.
Hopefully unsettling anecdotes of people being transferred from their wheelchairs and left at the top of evacuation chairs will be a thing of the past, and all occupants are better able to evacuate buildings on an equivalent basis, without the external assistance of emergency services.