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NEITTech

Hearing impaired member of staff

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We have a member of staff in school who is severely hearing impaired (not sure if legally classed as deaf). There have been three instances in the last two years where she has not heard the fire alarm during fire drills. Each time a member of staff has found her completely unaware of the, sometimes, unbearably loud alarms. She works alone as a sort of general assistant (cleaning, doing odd-jobs), so she is not often in classrooms.

I have been asked to investigate possible solutions, so I asked for a quote from the company that maintains our fire alarm. Their recommendation is a Deaf Alerter system, at a total of nearly £9000 for the system and necessary integration works. The senior management say that this is too much, especailly as the member of staff only works 4 hours a day in a not-far-off minimum wage role. I have reminded them of the relevant equalities legislation but its simply not going to happen, the money isn't available. They have suggested that she could be issued with a spare mobile phone set on vibrate that she collects from the Reception when she starts work and hands in when she finishes work. I immediately saw multiple problems with this solution, namely that someone would have the repsonsibility of calling the phone when there is a fire (what if they forget, or are involved in the fire?), she might not notice the phone vibration if she is walking or whatever, the local mast might be down so she might not have signal (half the school has poor signal anyway), there's loads of holes in their plan.

Can anyone recommend a cheaper solution? We have a Gent Vigilon alarm system. Thanks in advance.

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Check out http://www.safelincs.co.uk/deafgard-portable-and-wirefree-smoke-alarm-for-the-deaf-and-hard-of-hearing/ it could be possible to carry it in a shoulder bag with the vibration pad in a pocket or other such arrangement. Find out who the manufacturer is and they may have a more suitable portable device.

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If you want an alternative to an alerter, then you may need to consider Visual Alarm Devices as part of your fire alarm system, which as being used as a primary warning should conform to EN54-23. Whilst area coverage is subject to risk assessment the usual compliant provision is to all toilets and any office/room where a person relying on visual warning may work alone (it's anticipated that in larger rooms with other staff present they would alert the hearing impaired person).

 

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Thanks for all the replies. Regarding the flashing beacons, half the school has old style alarms, and the other half has newer multifunction alarm/detectors (S-quad). Unfortunately we had to get the flashing beacons turned off because we are a special needs school with a high number of epileptic pupils. When asked, our fire alarm maintenance company couldn't prove that they are safe to use and so the headteacher instructed them to disable the beacons.

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I am severely deaf and wear a bone anchored hearing aid, though I can hear our fire alarm without my hearing aid due to the high tone.

When I first moved to my company in 1990, a manager had a flashing light fitted in place of an alarm and end of shift buzzer without discussing my needs with me, only it was a clear 60W  light bulb so proved useless, a bright coloured beacon would have been better but would have been a problem for a member of staff with epilepsy.

Since a factory refurbishment and change of role the alarm is back in place.

We also had a profoundly deaf women here who worked on production and had a buddy to alert her.

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Hi

Regarding the headteacher instructing the alarm teacher to just turn the visual alarm displays off that's not really an option as in your buildings circumstances they are required as per BS5839.

The engineer/ alarm company should also have known this and advised on solutions such as using vads with a flash rate of 3hz or less (also in the standards) which would be unlikely to result in seizures occurring.

More info can be gained via this document:

http://www.redbooklive.com/download/pdf/CoP-0001.pdf

Although more aimed at the engineer it gives useful info and I would advise the head teacher to pass it on to the company he uses for his alarm maintenance for their own reference rather them just disabling them.

Will be a damn sight cheaper than 9k to install these too!

James

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6 hours ago, NEITTech said:

Thanks for all the replies. Regarding the flashing beacons, half the school has old style alarms, and the other half has newer multifunction alarm/detectors (S-quad). Unfortunately we had to get the flashing beacons turned off because we are a special needs school with a high number of epileptic pupils. When asked, our fire alarm maintenance company couldn't prove that they are safe to use and so the headteacher instructed them to disable the beacons.

Your older beacons will be strobe, but new will be LED and not a risk. Photosensitive epilepsy is quite rare, do you know if any of these pupils are actually sensitised?

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You say "She works alone as a sort of general assistant (cleaning, doing odd-jobs), so she is not often in classrooms" how many different location is she likely to be alone?

People who are deaf and hard of hearing should be taken into account in the design of fire alarm systems and evacuation management plans. The use of flashing beacons, vibrating pagers or pillows, and similar alert devices should be considered, appropriately located and backed up by an integrated fire management plan. Where an individual PEEP can be produced, the use of a buddy system should be considered. 

Have you considered a PEEP and buddy system?

 

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On 8/19/2017 at 12:14, Tom Sutton said:

You say "She works alone as a sort of general assistant (cleaning, doing odd-jobs), so she is not often in classrooms" how many different location is she likely to be alone?

People who are deaf and hard of hearing should be taken into account in the design of fire alarm systems and evacuation management plans. The use of flashing beacons, vibrating pagers or pillows, and similar alert devices should be considered, appropriately located and backed up by an integrated fire management plan. Where an individual PEEP can be produced, the use of a buddy system should be considered. 

Have you considered a PEEP and buddy system?

 

Yes, she should have had a PEEP years ago but it was never done. She will be getting one in September, but the reason I have asked for advice is so we can actually do her one. Regarding the buddy system, she works alone. Obviously she comes into contact with other members of staff in school but she doesn't work in one place and spends most of her working day alone carrying out her duties, roaming around the school. She spends a lot of time in the staff room and the store cupboard located within it, and it not uncommon for this room to be empty apart from her for the best part of an hour. 

In my mind we have a few options:

  • upgrade the existing older detector-only units to those that include lights and sounders (this is my preferred option because I would like to see all the existing beacons reactivated anyway and all the old detectors are due to be replaced in the next few years anyway - s-quad devices would be an ideal replacement)
  • purchase the Deaf Alert system
  • purchase another sort of alert device (vibrating pillow etc) and try to adapt it for use in school

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We have provided a number of solutions but do not have the knowledge of the premises that you have, I believe it is now up to you.  It will be interesting which options you take up and when considering your options do not forget visitors that could be on the premises.

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Just an update on this. I've just had the local fire station manager/fire safety inspector out for a visit and tour of the school. In his opinion, we are fine because the school is sweeped during evacuation anyway. He said there is no need for a Deaf Alert system, there's no need for VADs and he wouldn't consider upgrading the existing detectors/sounders to cover 'quieter' areas but if we still want to we can. He also suggested that giving her a mobile phone set to vibrate which someone rings when the alarm is activated would be further mitigation but again its not necessary.

What we decided we're going to do before he even visited is go around with the member of staff with the HI and see in which areas she can't hear the alarm, and make a note of the decibel level. We'll then look to see what solution we can put in place for those areas, eg. replace an old detector only unit with an s-quad so the alarm is louder in the room in question.

He said we're well above what is legally necessary. For example, he would be fine with not having detectors in most of the classrooms as long as they are in the corridors, but we have detectors everywhere. If he's happy, I'm happy.

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He is the local station manager, separate from the fire safety people based at headquarters. His badge said fire investigation as well. His visit counted as our three-yearly fire safety audit though. He did say that he is the only person that could prosecute the school, and he wouldn't consider it because we've showed more than enough due care for both staff and pupils. He was actually quite impressed!

Like I said, we're still going to go 'above and beyond' and do a walkaround with the lady and make improvements where necessary.

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