Refuge Areas: An Australian Experience by Lee Wilson Director Egress Group Pty Ltd
Lee Wilson is a disability access, egress and universal design consultant based in Melbourne. He is an Accredited Member of ACAA and a Subject Matter Expert with the Australian Building Codes Board. Lee has worked all over Australia, often consulting on complex building projects requiring a performance-based approach to compliance.
lanning for the evacuation of people with disabilities from buildings has been described as a “can of worms”.
In Australia, we now have Commonwealth legislation requiring buildings to be accessible “to and within all areas normally used by the occupants”, all the while ignoring the challenges some people face during an emergency evacuation. This is far from an ideal situation.
from a fire hazard for people with disabilities while waiting for assistance to evacuate”. The document also proposed many amendments to the prescriptive requirements of the Building Code of Australia Volume 1 (BCA) to support the inclusion of these refuge areas. RD97/01 made this important statement: “The emphasis in the past has been to enable people with disabilities to enter buildings. An aspect often overlooked is if their entry is by lift and the lift is not available in the event of an emergency, and because of their disability they can not use the fire stairways, how then are they protected and ultimately evacuated? The BCA performance clauses require the safety of all people in the event of an emergency.” Even back in 1997, the seriousness of this issue was identified, some 14 years before the introduction of the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 (Premises Standards). However, this statement is still as relevant today as it was in 1998. RD97/01 had good intent and proposed that occupants who are unable to use stairs could wait in a suitable location, with fire and smoke separation, for rescue assistance. However, the
There is no one specific piece of legislation that mandates all evacuation provisions for people with disability. The current framework includes human rights, disability, building and workplace safety legislation, but somewhere, this important piece of the puzzle to inclusion, giving the right to feel safe, protected and confident in buildings has not been addressed. In 1998, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) acknowledged this gap and the need for accessible egress options. The ABCB published a Regulation Document ‘RD97/01, Provisions for People with Disabilities’, which proposed the use of a ‘place of refuge’. This was defined as “a place which offers protection 16
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