4 Reasons Your Staff Need Evacuation Chair Training

24 March 2016

Yesterday my colleagues and I were paid a visit by Evacusafe, a leading evacuation chair manufacturer. The guys from Evacusafe brought three chairs along to our office - the Evac+Chair 300H, the Evacuation Chair Standard model and the Excel model - to provide information and show us how to use them. 

The training was certainly enlightening, bringing some things to my attention that I hadn’t really considered before. So now I’m going to report back to you, explaining why I think the training is important so you can see how your company can benefit too. 

1.    What’s the Point in Owning a Car if You Don’t Know How to Drive?

There’s no doubting that evacuation chairs make a multi-storey building safer. Whether you have people with physical disabilities in your workforce or not, there’s no telling when someone may become incapacitated and need to be quickly moved out of the building. 

But the main point that Evacusafe stressed to us was not that companies weren’t purchasing chairs – it was that the chairs were being purchased, but without any of the staff actually having a clue how to use them. In other words, Evacusafe often got the feeling that a chair would be installed to meet some kind of quota, keeping health and safety happy, to then be forgotten about. 

They actually told us a story about a mother and her disabled son who were shopping at a leading UK retailer when the fire alarm sounded. The store did have evacuation chairs in place but, because none of the staff knew how to operate them, the mother and son were essentially abandoned at the top of the stairwell. Luckily this time it was only a drill but it begs the question: what could have happened in an emergency?

The funny thing is, once you’ve been trained on how use an evacuation chair you’ll see how simple it is! Any able-bodied person can do it – a straightforward demonstration and half an hour or so of training could have prevented this situation.

Admittedly, emergency situations are rare but, for the sake of a small piece of your time, why risk being caught out?

2.    Putting Things Into Practice

So here’s the fun bit: the training didn't just involve Evacusafe talking at us, but also practical experience using the chairs. I personally think verbal instructions for this sort of thing can only go so far and nothing is quite as effective as physically having a go. 

We paired up, taking it in turns for one person to sit in the chair whilst the other controlled it. At first this was a little daunting (especially for the colleague who had to take the boss down the stairs!). I don’t think any of us really fancied face-planting concrete steps on a Wednesday morning. 

Of course, that was never actually going to happen and we were all surprised at how easy and smooth the descent was. The chair is wheeled over to the top of the stairs and slides down on rubber tracks which are almost like skis, but with more friction and control. You can watch the video below to see how it’s done. 

Because of this practical experience, I would really recommend the training for you and your staff. Sure, you can read instructions or watch the demo video, but it’s not quite the same as trying it out on site under the supervision and guidance of experts. The fact that we now not only know how to use an evacuation chair, but have actually had practice doing so is really reassuring. 

3.    See the Chairs in the Flesh

Being able to see the chair models in real life was another useful part of the Evacusafe training. This is particularly handy if you’re not sure which model to go for, allowing for easier comparison to judge which is best for your space.

We tried out the Evac+Chair and the Excel model on our office stairs. We found both to be easy to operate, although in the end decided we preferred the Excel model on account of its slightly smoother descent and its more comfortable flat, rather than hammock, seat. Having said that the Evac+Chair is cheaper, so both have their benefits!

Whilst product descriptions and images can be really informative, being able to actually see and touch the evacuation chair for yourself within the training allows a far more detailed look at the product.

4.    Employers are responsible for the safety of their staff

Whilst there's no law that says companies have to own or be trained on evacuation chairs, it's still a duty to have an adequate evacuation plan in place. Evacusafe talked to us about the importance of having a PEEP and a GEEP – a Personal/General Emergency Evacuation Plan. 

Under the 2005 Regulatory Reform Order, it is no longer the sole responsibility of the fire service to keep you safe – they can’t be your plan. By allowing evacuation chair training for you and your staff, you can improve your emergency evacuation plan for a safer working environment.

Failure to train your staff in this area can have disastrous results, and I’m not just talking in theory. In 2007, the high street store New Look had to pay a massive fine of £400,000 after a fire. The blaze gutted their Oxford Street store, took thirty-five engines and 150 fire-fighters three days to tackle and disrupted trade at more than fifty Oxford Street shops. And what was New Look’s fire safety breach? Insufficient staff training (as well as boxes blocking escape routes). The importance of staff fire safety and evacuation training therefore cannot be stressed enough.

What Our Training Taught Us

As a result of the Evacusafe training, my colleagues and I now feel confident that we can operate an evacuation chair if needed. This is not only useful with regard to office safety, but also for any situation we may find ourselves in where there is an evacuation chair on site and a less able person who needs assistance.

The helpful guys at Evacusafe reminded us that nothing can fully prepare you for an emergency, and that operating the chairs would be a lot harder under the pressure of a real incident, taking into account other factors such as crowds, injuries and smoke. 

But that’s not to say you can't take steps to make sure you are as prepared as possible should the worst happen. Don’t be the reason for that poor mum and son left in the stairwell – know how to get those around you back to the ground. 

For more information, check out our training section on Evacuation Chair Shop.