Exit sign in Melbourne Department store, suspended from ceiling over merchandise

The Exit Sign ‘Gap’ and Reducing Risk

The gap in legislation pertaining to emergency planning and evacuation of people with disability presents a risk for facility managers, owners of commercial buildings and employers.

The environment in the U.S. is far more litigious and there are examples of individuals suing for negligence and breaches of the ADA.

David Comstock, an attorney specialising in fire litigation (as well as being a fire district chief) in 2005 cited an incident where a shopper using a wheelchair was left within the store during an evacuation. During the evacuation of the building the lifts were inoperable and the only other egress paths were via stairways. As a result, the store employees left the shopper alone and exposed to the emergency threat. The court ruled that the department store should have had knowledge of this person being within their store and therefore had a duty to help her. Additionally, the court also ruled that although she wasn’t injured during the incident, the fact is that she could have been, and this presented a breach of the ADA.[1]

Good planning, communication of emergency evacuation information, appropriate accessible exit signage and an accessible means of egress would have allowed this shopper to evacuate with the rest of the building occupants.

[1] Comstock, DC 2005, ADA Decision Heralds New Safety Thinking, Fire Chief, Sep 2005, Vol. 49 Issue 9, pp.18,20,22

Buildings need exit and emergency signs to identify parts of the accessible means of egress. An Accessible Exit Sign Project Initiative.

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