Inappropriateness of using Waking Watch for evacuation plans

We have heard several reports of waking watch (fire wardens) being put in place or retained for the supposed benefit of specific disabled residents’ or to guard against perceived leaseholder liability. This is troubling on many counts.

The Government’s third, and most recent, consultation on disabled people and fire safety emphasises a degree of unreasonableness about the costs associated with implementing a waking watch service to enable the evacuation of disabled people. We are very disappointed by this provocative tactic to block sensible fire evacuation planning practices.

Evacuation plans are about planning, making collective informed discussions and taking all reasonable steps to mitigate against the risk of death and injury. We ask everyone to reflect on whether that process is an unreasonable ask.

We are not advocating ‘no risk’ duties which require all leaseholders to fund everything which might eradicate a risk. Risk assessment and mitigation in the real world doesn’t work like that. How do we expect the delivery driver to move our new washing machine from the van to our kitchen if a degree of risk of injury wasn’t acknowledged and mitigated? Or react to a stranger who performs CPR to the best of their ability on a loved one that they find unconscious on the pavement? This is simply about taking an opportunity to reasonably (not absolutely) mitigate risk to death and serious injury.

Waking watch should never be required by a ‘Responsible Person’ or the Fire and Rescue Service to stay in place for the benefit of the safety of disabled residents only. Any employer (aka a ‘responsible person’) who uses a waking watch service to specifically evacuate disabled people is bound by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (s.2-3) and should take legal advice and consult their insurers on whether prescribing this task is lawful.

Further, there should be a critique of the reality of the plans in place. Many of us (disabled people) have found ourselves subject to absurd PEEPs which have proven pointless in practice. For example:

  • Can the waking watch open the flat door if the Deaf/disabled person does not respond to the alarm? 
  • Can they cross the flat threshold if the person cannot come to the door? 
  • Can they (i.e. is each individual trained to) safely hoist a person from their bed to an evacuation chair if needed?

There is a great deal of ignorance and panic around this issue and we urge Responsible Persons to take legal advice if they feel pressured to implement such a practice ‘for show’.

As an example, Anthony is a wheelchair user living in Putney, London and his situation highlights the absurdity of waking watch being used without thought or consultation. Anthony has not left his flat for months due to a broken lift and cannot move to an accessible home.  A PEEP has been put in place for him without any consultation.

“I’ve recently heard that there is someone stationed 24/7 sat outside my flat for my specific fire safety. This was news to me. I have no idea what my ‘evacuation plan’ is but apparently there is one and they’ve bought kit to help get me out without consulting me. The guys outside my flat know nothing about my body or needs – I don’t know how an ‘evac chair’ would work or what they would do to help me. Are they able to come into my flat if something happens I struggle to get out? Without training or practising drills with me, how is that legally safe for their employer to ask them to do this…or for, that matter, for me to take part? It would be safer for me to get down the stairs on my own, which I could do in an emergency – but no-one has asked me.”

As Anthony and many other disabled people are telling us, it is indeed ‘all show and no substance’. Several disabled people have contacted us about waking watch being held in place for their benefit only, without any training or knowledge of their needs.

This is the consequence of panic, knee-jerk reactive responses to the need for evacuation planning for disabled people. We are disappointed that the Home Office has allowed this to happen. Each resident who cannot self-evacuate without experiencing barriers, should go through an evacuation planning process. That process must be person-centred. One-size-fits-all solutions, whilst convenient, are impossible. That’s what it means to be human. Some disabled people will be children, some young, some old, some will be working, some will have partners, some will take a little longer to respond to a fire alarm than neighbours, some will be pregnant, some will have care support for none/some/all hours of the day. That is real life. We live varied lives.

One in five of the UK population are disabled. Sweeping statements about how ‘those people’ live are not accurate or helpful. Neither are fire industry, landlord lobbyist or leaseholder campaigner calling for boxed-up solutions. Disabled people need a right to a bespoke evacuation plan central to their requirements and location, not to the same one.

In the experience of experts who advise us, the number of cases where a disabled person in general needs housing whose risk cannot be reasonably mitigated is very low. To be clear, we do not consider the imposition of waking watch for the perceived safety of specific individuals to be reasonable. However, in those extreme cases, the Responsible Person should commission advice from those who have expertise in PEEPs.

We trust the leaseholders and tenants caught up in the building safety scandal – along with responsible managing agents, the Fire and Rescue Service and the fire risk assessing industry – will unequivocally stand shoulder to shoulder with the disabled community. Disabled people’s lives are in danger because of the stereotypes and assumptions upheld in the building design, build and management process. The costs of rectifying this should not be passed on to our neighbours and fellow disabled leaseholders and we should unite to resist this. However, the paramount issue is that no-one should die in a fire or emergency because their life was deemed too inconvenient or costly. Implementation and logistics should not be discussed in the debate on the clarification of this fundamental right.

Please sign our petition for the Grenfell Inquiry recommendation on disabled people and evacuation plans to be implemented.

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