Access best practice

Alastair Stannah from Lifts Distribution & Service (UK) discusses best practice specification for making public buildings fully accessible for all users

Driving best practice for accessibility in commercial and public buildings are the legal framework; the Building Regulations, Part M Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 for England and Wales, or Section 4 of the Technical Handbook (Scottish Part M Equivalent), and design guidance BS 8300. These all outline the requirements when considering which lift to install in a new building and the preferences and guidance on ensuring an accessible lift. The latter two highlight specific lift requirements and priorities between the different types of passenger moving lifts, which also have different standards depending on the type of lift.

Sometimes, a physical feature of a building can make it more difficult for a person with impaired mobility to access.

The Equality Act 2010 states a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to not put anyone at a substantial disadvantage.

It is possible to install one or more disabled access lifts in most buildings that have two or more floors or to provide a ramp or step lift where there is a short flight of stairs.

Building Regulations

Approved Document M gives direction on enabling a public access building to conform to the Equality Act. This document states that easonable provision must be “made for people to access and use the building’s facilities.”

Fire Safety: Approved Document B covers all fire safety matters within and around buildings, and further detail on firefighting and evacuation passenger lifts. It is worth mentioning the focus is increasing on evacuation lifts; the new London Plan (currently in pre-consultation draft) includes a minimum of one evacuation lift per core (or more subject to capacity assessments) in policy D5.

Part M states that the preferred solution to disabled access is a passenger lift, with the number of lifts depending upon the application, but it also recognises that it may not always be possible for a building to accommodate one, so proposes the next best alternative is a platform lift.

Like its English counterpart, Section 4.2 gives direction on enabling a public access building to conform to the Equality Act. Most of the requirements of Section 4.2 are identical or closely similar to Part M. However, the requirements do differ and require larger platform lift minimum sizes.

Design guidance

For both new and existing buildings, we look to Building Regulations but also BS 8300:2018 ‘Design of an accessible and inclusive built environment…’ which strongly recommends that at least one lift (of sufficient size) must be made accessible to wheelchair users in multi-storey buildings. An accessible lift will need to be found easily, be large enough for a wheelchair to rotate 360° inside, and have enough space outside to manoeuvre safely.

Additionally, there are recommendations for visibility and operation, such as large illuminated buttons, audible and visual signals, adequate lift car lighting levels and level entry to enable smooth entrance and exit. The relevant standard will ensure compliance to much of these but consideration should be given to landing entrances as part of the specification.

Passenger lifts

These lifts can range in size from three to 33 person capacity and beyond, though eight-person is the most common, as it is specified in Part M. There are different types of passenger lifts, depending on the environment such as firefighting and evacuation lifts used in case of an emergency, or heavy duty or vandal resistant lifts for more demanding environments.

Passenger lifts fall under the Lifts Regulations 2016, meaning they travel faster than 0.15 m/s, allowing for relatively rapid movement of people through a building – typically, a journey takes around 18 seconds between floors. The installation of a passenger lift requires a lift shaft to be built to house a passenger car and mechanism.

They can be designed to fit most sizes of lift shafts and structures and are best suited for new buildings, where pre-construction makes it easier to fit, or where there is an existing shaft. Of course, there will be a requirement in a building where the lift will get extensive use – either due to the building size or because the lift will be the primary means of travelling between floors, or one that demands better management of high traffic flow of people and large capacities.

Platform lifts

Platform lifts are best suited to smaller passenger numbers travelling shorter distances. These access lifts can range in size from one person/wheelchair user to up to five people. There are many variants within the platform lift ‘family.’

Due to a slower speed, they are designed to provide vertical movement between floors in a low rise building – typically between two to four floors. A platform lift’s speed is limited to 0.15 m/s or less (they fall under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations, so travel time between floors averages around 22 seconds). Platform lifts can be used indoors or out for both vertical and inclined travel and are good for low rise buildings or where space is tight.

Alastair Stannah is managing director at Lifts Distribution & Service (UK)