Alarms for people with disabilities


As a person of influence, responsible for the lives of people in your organisation, make sure you’re up to speed on the following:

Something everyone must consider

There are estimated to be almost 9 million deaf or hard-of-hearing people in the UK alone. Every organization must factor this in to their fire safety plans, especially those organizations which are open to the general public. Even if you aren’t open to the general public, or have hard-of-hearing employees, you may be responsible for people who wear headphones while working, or are in environments that are noisy or soundproofed, for example, in recording studios, basements or factories.

Visual alarms

You may need to consider installing Visual Alarm Devices (VADs) in the form of flashing beacons, or tactile devices, such as pagers or vibrating pillows or beds.

The positioning of VADs needs to be thought through carefully. Who is the intended target, and are they likely to benefit from the signal? If the signal is intended to be for a deaf or hard-of-hearing person, are they likely to be on their own? Is a deaf person likely to frequent the ‘disabled toilet’ exclusively, for example, or would they also use the regular sanitary facilities provided for others? If VADs are located wisely following a risk assessment, their impact on the control panel and wiring can be minimised.

What about vibrating devices?

These devices also require careful consideration. In order for vibrating devices to be effective, they need constant body contact. What if the device is kept in a jacket that the wearer removes? Or if it can’t be on the person all the time – for example, an athlete training in a swimming pool? Furthermore, if someone forgets to replace the batteries in their device, this could present an additional risk.

Creating the right fire safety solution

The best approach is to use the appropriate device for a given situation after having assessed all the risks. Pagers may complement a fixed system using VADs, but it could also be argued that they shouldn’t replace them. Flashing beacons are a well-established form of warning in emergencies, and are familiar to designers, installers and users alike. Ultimately, one visual alarm device can potentially signal to many people in a given range, unlike pagers – which are personal devices.

Looking carefully at the practicalities of any given situation should provide a better understanding of the best solutions to implement, taking into account the safety and convenience of the building’s occupants.

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