Building Code Advice - Access
There is a governing body regarding building designs, material and methods of construction. You cannot just build whatever and whenever as your design has to comply with the local building codes. Building permits are necessary for you to start on your construction. When applying for a building permit, the required plans are to be submitted for approval. The plans are inclusive of the floor plan, electrical plan and related load computations, sanitary and plumbing plans, and mechanical plans.
In the UK the Building Regulations have set minimum requirements of building designs to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of people using the facility and people around a specified facility or structure are safe. An added mission is to build fuel and energy saving buildings in England and Wales.
There are different requirements too for each type of building. What is required for a residential plan is different from what is required for a hospital. The UK Building Regulations are divided into the following major categories
1. Part A - structural safety
2. Part B - Fire Safety
3. Part C - Site Preparation
4. Part D - Toxic substances
5. Part E - Sound Insulation
6. Part F - Ventilation
7. Part G - Hygiene
8. Part H - Drainage and Waste Disposal
9. Part J - Combustion Appliances
10. Part K -Protection from falling and impact
11. Part L - Energy Efficiency
12. Part M - Access to and use of building
13. Part N - Glazing
14. Part P - Electrical Safety
A revamp of the Building Regulations was done in 2000. The revision includes new provisions for Part M of the Building Regulations. Part M is all about access points to and use of building. The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 and the Disability Discrimination (Employment) Regulations 1996 stipulates that a public establishment should make provisions and/or adjustments for the disabled. An easier way to say this is that a public building (institutional, commercial, industrial, educational, and other) should have ramps specifically designed and strategically located in exits and entry points of a building for the disabled. This provision also applies to parking areas and public washrooms.
Section M discusses the various other aspects regarding provisions for the disabled. The overall design of a public building, its site development included, specifies that walkways and approaches to the main building should also be able to accommodate the disabled, wheelchairs et al. It is highly encouraged that the entry point of a building's level and the site's level difference is minimized. The clause is inclusive of special parking provisions for people in wheelchairs.
A wheelchair ramp is the usual provision for the disabled. The inclined plane is installed in addition to stairs for the use of people in wheelchairs, for people pushing strollers or other wheeled objects to get inside a building. Ramps have to be carefully designed to be useful. In the past, there were ramps haphazardly built just to meet the new requirements for access for the disabled.
The UK Building Regulations pertaining to ramps is Part K. In section K1 Section 2 is it stipulated that a ramp should have a maximum steepness of 1:12 to permit safe passage. The ratio is 1 inch of rise for 12 inches of length. To make it simpler, the ratio is 1 inch of rise for every 1 foot length. For a ramp with a length of 2 meters, the maximum height of the ramp is 6.6 inches or 167 mm. A ramp with a steepness ratio of less than 1:12, say at 1:10 is better especially in parts where the ramp would be exposed to the elements like rain and snow. The minimum width of the ramp should be set at 36 inches or 900 mm. A width less than this could be too narrow to for a regular wheelchair to navigate. All ramps that are less than 1 meter in width should have a fixed handrail at least on one side. All ramps are required to have minimum headroom of 2 meters all throughout its run including landings.
Entry and Exits are also important in relation to fire escapes. In the UK adherence to fire regulations is strictly enforced. All buildings are regulated to have highly visible "Fire Exit" signs on exit points in case of fire. The sign should also have a picture indicating that the door is indeed a fire exit.
In the UK, it is required that a suitable means of escape for the disabled should be provided at every part or floor of the building that is accessible to the disabled. It is mandatory that there must be at least one exit from any room, storey, space, gallery, catwalk or openwork floor of a building, or from a dwelling. This applies for a building occupancy of less than 60. For a building with occupancy of 61-600, there should be at least 2 exits. For more than 600, there should be at least 3 exits. There are more stipulations regarding the type of occupancy and the distance of the escape route in accordance with a building's occupancy too.
A door or staircase is not the only accepted means of escape. According to Building Regulations, an escape route should have the following:
- a floor or a roof
- an escape stair or ramp
- an access balcony or access deck
- a fixed ladder in a limited access area
- any area in an agricultural building