Evacuation by lift – a standard that simplifies and improves? - Briab - Brand, Risk & Säkerhet


Evacuation by lift – a standard that simplifies and improves?

Briab is a member of the SIS working group that works on behalf of SBUF to produce a standard for evacuation lifts. We had a chat with Johan Westerlund, fire engineer, certified expert fire and consultant, who represents Briab in the work.

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Evacuation via lift, isn’t that something we’ve learnt not to do?

Yes, that’s right, many of us have learnt that, but it isn’t quite that simple. There doesn’t actually appear to be any statistics to show that lifts would be dangerous to use when evacuating a building, though there are experiences of, among other things, falls during evacuations by stairs. Today, the technology exists (and it has been around for quite a long time) to design lifts in such a way that they not only complement but are also a sound alternative to evacuation via, for example, stairs. Since 2012, the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning’s general advice on analytical dimensioning has provided a clearer option on using lifts for evacuation and on the factors that need to be given special consideration. But they’re not straightforward project instructions, and we can see that the standard we work with has a void to fill.

It sounds like you think it’s positive and exciting. Do you see a future scenario when stairwells are a thing of the past?

Yes, I definitely think it’s positive and exciting. But it’s not really the lift itself I’m getting at. Rather, it’s about questioning old truths: rationally and objectively analysing current technology as well as findings about human behaviour, and hopefully combining this to contribute to valuable development of community construction.



Johan Westerlund, Briab

Johan Westerlund, Briab

Those were big words. What old truths do you think are worth questioning?

Well, in my opinion many of us have heard and learnt early on that you shouldn’t use the lift in case of fire. And if you haven’t got any better information, it is of course a reasonable starting point. But, in a building or facility where lifts are a natural device for vertical movement, I think it would have been positive if the starting point was ‘How can I get out of here? Stairs or lifts? What do the signs and any other information systems say?’ Lifts designed for evacuation can definitely be made to be, at least, as safe escape routes as stairwells. Depending on the height of the lift and the number of people, it can often also be the fastest way to get out of a building or facility. Even if it involves some waiting time to get into the lift.

What is the biggest benefit of using lifts for evacuation?

Time, that is how quickly you can get out of a building or facility. It’s clear that the higher or deeper a building/facility is, the greater the time gain. Few people, even in the fastest of stair races, manage to move at a speed of, for example, 4 m/s of vertical lift height. Though, in some cases, this may mean that the individual has to wait for the lift for a while before that part of the journey can begin. Apart from the time aspect, a lift contributes the greatest immediate improvement in evacuation safety of people with mobility impairments who have difficulty moving on stairs.

We thank Johan for the chat and hope we can come back with more questions as the work progresses. On my way home, I wonder how it is that these ‘general truths’ guide us so easily without us thinking about why, and how quickly they’re forgotten when someone dares challenge them.



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