Although we usually think of the ADA in terms of helping disabled people perform their jobs with or without accommodations, the law also has importantimplications.
The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy began focusing on evacuation procedures in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The issue: Employees with disabilities may need extra help to get out of a building in an emergency.
How to comply
Under the ADA, you must make sure your emergency evacuation plans take into account the needs of disabled employees. Some issues to consider:
Survey the staff. You can periodically ask current employees whether they need assistance in emergencies.
This is one case in which the EEOC lets employers ask medical-related questions. Typically, you can’t ask questions that might reveal a disability. But EEOC rules now let you ask employees if they’d need assistance to evacuate.
Create a readable plan. Make sure all employees have copies of the evacuation plan. Communicate it to all employees in the same frequency and level of detail.
If your plan is online, make sure it’s accessible to blind or low-vision employees who use screen readers or speech-recognition technology.
Choose the right alarms ... and test. To help people with hearing problems, consider installing strobe lights or vibrating devices to supplement audible alarms.
Clear the route. Remove any physical barriers (boxes, supplies, furniture) to ensure a clear route out of the building. Firetruck ladders can generally reach the seventh floor of a building. Identify windows where fire trucks can reach, and ledges that are large enough to stand or sit on.
Give options. When planning for evacuation, let disabled employees choose their preferred means for evacuation. Tip: Offer a buddy system, in which another employee helps a disabled worker leave the building.
Evacuation chairs—wheelchairs designed to go down steps with assistance—can work for some employees with mobility limits.
Conventional wisdom says not to use elevators during emergency evacuations. But, if an elevator is in good working order, it can effectively evacuate wheelchair-bound people. Work with your facilitiesstaff and the fire department to find out if elevators are a safe evacuation option for disabled employees.
Conduct drills. They’re essential to understanding how well your plan serves disabled workers. Ask:
- Do disabled employees impede others from evacuating?
- Do disabled employees and their designated buddies know where evacuation windows and chairs are?
- Can visually and hearing-impaired employees be alerted by the alarms?
- Are evacuation routes posted prominently throughout the building?