Vernon Barry of Kee Safety Ltd takes a look at the obligations the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and Building Regulations place on schools and colleges to improve accessibility and make new and existing education buildings as safe as possible for people to use.
Rolled out in 2005, the ambitious Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme is set to see almost every school in England rebuilt or refurbished by 2020. The Comprehensive Spending Review settlement for 2008-11 allocated £9.3 billion for the BSF programme over three years.
One of the programmes key objectives is to provide access to school facilities which can be used by all members of the local community. On all BSF projects, there is the obligation to review and enhance access in, between and around school buildings, so that students and visitors can enter freely, move around and leave the premises unaided. This requires that school campuses be designed and built, or modified, to remove physical barriers that may impede easy access and enable everyone to use all necessary amenities.
It would be true to say that schools vary widely in how accessible they are. In developing and implementing an appropriate access plan, and with funding available through the BSF scheme to make strategic enhancements, modern handrailing systems can be retrofitted or installed as new to provide an improved, cost-effective solution which meets the relevant regulatory requirements.
Current regulations, such as Part M of the Building Regulations, have helped to promote the need for improvement in access, stating ways in which it can be tackled at the design and build stage of a public area. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which came into force in 1995 states that schools are obliged to increase access for individual students by making reasonable adjustments to the physical features of the buildings. The most common solution can involve taking out physical structures like steps and replacing them with ramps, or simply providing handrails to aid wheelchair or other disabled users.
Meanwhile, the precise obligations set out in Building Regulation Approved Document M specify that guarding and handrail heights on all building stairways and ramps do not discriminate against any disability group. On access ramp gradients, varying from two through to five degrees, handrails need to be positioned on both sides, or centrally for a wide path, to allow a choice of which arm to use for support. They should be installed on both sides of ramps that are longer than two metres and should, where possible, extend 300mm beyond the top and bottom of the ramp or staircase. The Building Regulations stipulate an outside diameter tube size for such installations of between 40-45mm, and must be offset in the case of a mid-height handrail.
It is also important that a facilitys external handrailing is part of a façade which is aesthetically attractive and capable of making a good first impression on all visitors. A structure must look the part - easily visible but not obstructive. These handrails are installed to prevent falls or collisions. They are also required where there is a risk of falling, such as over an edge or down a slope, or where people may walk into obstructions or walk unawares into the path of traffic.
Kee Access® components are ideal for heavy-traffic education environments and allow both speedy and seamless retrofitting as well as hassle-free and simple installation in a new build. The range is designed to be compatible with the DDA recommendations, with a size 7 tube (outside diameter 42.4mm) smooth handrail. As part of the Safety Components range, Kee Access® incorporates a total of seventeen new fittings and is supplied with versatility, ease and speed of installation in mind. Ideal for use in creating new structures, the series can also be used as a retrofit solution, because it includes Add-on offset fittings to allow a new handrail to be added onto an existing structure of appropriate size.
These fittings can be easily augmented with components from the established Kee Klamp® range to create a complete, cost-effective answer to DDA requirements. To satisfy the DDAs specific visibility and not cold-to-the-touch criteria, each fitting comes with the choice of powder coating in all of the RAL colours available.
Given the requirements of the DDA and Building Regulations, the Private Public Partnerships tasked with delivering the BSF objectives should aim for an inclusive approach when commissioning building or refurbishment work with one of the key aims being the provision of equal access and best practice from the outset. The school environment is sure to benefit from properly designed and installed handrails that make access easier and safer for all.