• Part 1: The benefits of accessible housing (evaluating what evidence is available on the benefits of accessible housing, and where further evidence is needed); and
  • Part 2: The effectiveness of current guidance for buildings other than dwellings (looking at what evidence is available to understand how well current guidance in Part M is meeting the needs of disabled people).

With our workplaces forecast to become more dynamic and with the numbers of people needing greater help and assistance likely to be increasing (improvements in life expectancy mean 25% of the population will be over the age of 65 by 2040), the ability for people to access, use buildings and their facilities, as well as safely egress in an emergency remains an important part of effective building and facilities management.

What is the law affecting disability and access?

The Equality Act 2010 consolidated, supplemented and updated previous legislation to provide protection for people from discrimination in the workplace as well as in the wider society.

Forming the basis of the law in England, Scotland, Wales, and in parts Northern Ireland, it replaced a range of historic legislation including:

  • The Sex Discrimination Act 1975;
  • The Race Relations Act 1976/the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; as well as
  • Protecting discrimination in employment on grounds of age, sexual orientation and religion/belief.

Listing a series of now ‘protected characteristics’ it means it is unlawful to discriminate against anyone based on:

  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Gender reassignment;
  • Being married or in a civil partnership;
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave;
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin;
  • Religion or belief;
  • Sex; and/or
  • Sexual orientation.

It must also be recognised that the Equality Act 2010 is an enabling act and non-descriptive, meaning that rather than compliance based it is anticipatory on the needs of users. You do however still have a duty to make reasonable adjustments as poor accessibility and/or cases of discrimination can still go to tribunals or court etc.

What was the purpose of the Government review?

“Research to support the evaluation of Part M and Approved Document M of the Building Regulations” was published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on the 20th January 2021.

The work extended to both accessible housing and non-dwellings with specific aims set for evaluation in each area. With our work being primarily in commercial buildings our focus is with the non-dwelling aspects of the review. The aims of this section were to “provide an overview and analysis of existing evidence that underpins the statutory guidance set out in Part M: non-dwellings and identifies possible gaps in the evidence.”

The key objectives of the work being:

  • “to obtain evidence of the effectiveness of the guidance set out in Approved Document M: access to and use of buildings, volume 2: buildings other than dwellings;
  • and carrying out a gap analysis to identify what further research is needed to support an end-to-end review of the non-domestic guidance in Part M and Approved Document M of the building regulations.”

A link to this research is Research into Access to and Use of Buildings (publishing.service.gov.uk)

What were the major findings of the research?

In evaluating the available evidence on the effectiveness of current guidance for buildings other than dwellings and the extent to which Part M is meeting the needs of disabled people.

Key findings include:

  • The scope for the statutory guidance in Part M is seen as sufficient to meet the needs of a wide range of users. Although it is recognised it requires development to adequately address:
    • Users with more specific needs; and
    • For demographic groups whose number increased significantly since Part M was last updated in 2004, particularly an ageing population and the increase in obesity;
  • That the standards for accessibility in Approved Document M are broadly in line with, or slightly ahead of regulatory standards in other countries;
  • A review of existing requirements is needed to ensure that guidance provides the best fit possible for the needs of not only independent wheelchair users but also:
    • Those with carers;
    • Those with profound and multiple learning disabilities; and
    • Those with other forms of spinal or brain injury, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
  • The need to review consideration of mental health conditions and cognitive health issues including dementia; and
  • The need for wider study of anthropometric and ergonomic data as well as the needs and capabilities of disabled people and the recent developments in assistive technology and mobility aids;
  • More work to make sure good levels of compliance with the requirements of the regulations;
  • Certain specific needs may not be adequately covered by the guidance by groups of building users including:
    • Hearing and visually impaired people;
    • Children’s and parents’ needs;
    • People of shorter stature;
    • People with complex and multiple impairments requiring care-assistants; powered wheelchair users (who may need larger toilets);
    • Disabled people who use a cycle as a mobility aid; and
    • Users who require assistance to both sides of a toilet.
  • To assess whether Part M has a wider role to play in addressing other equality issues including gender, transgender and faith issues relating particularly to public sanitary provision.

What change can we expect will we see?

The objective of the ongoing research will be to develop robust data and evidence to inform MHCLG future policy and target possible improvements.

An example of the work already considered is a change to the rules on Changing Places toilets. These are larger accessible toilets for people who cannot use standard facilities and can include:

  • Hoists;
  • Curtains;
  • Adult-sized changing benches; and
  • More space for carers

From the 1st January 2021, in England it is now compulsory to include a Changing Places toilet in certain new public buildings. According to Government “more than 250,000 disabled people in the country will benefit from greater access to life-enhancing Changing Places toilets” with:

  • “£30 million available from government to install life-enhancing Changing Places toilets in existing buildings in England.”
  • “Changing Places toilets are a lifeline for more than a quarter of a million disabled people across the UK.”
  • “Government working in partnership with Muscular Dystrophy UK (MDUK) as co-chair of the Changing Places Consortium to provide support to councils.”
  • “Local authorities will soon be invited to “opt in” to receive a proportion of this funding, based on need, to install facilities in their communities.”

Details on the changing places toilets government consultation, response and action can be found at - Changing Places toilets - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) and £30 million investment to provide Changing Places toilets - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

What areas of my building and building operations should I be considering for suitability and use, as I remobilise?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen significant changes in the way most of us now use and interact with our buildings and building environment. Many of the changes have had knock on effects to fire, water, air quality and a host of other operational issues and disability access and inclusivity has been no less impacted.

As we look to remobilise and re-establish our workplaces, there are several considerations we also need to make for the access and usability of our building. These should include, as relevant:

  • Is there a requirement to change any existing personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPS)?
    • Have such plans been updated, and have the relevant people been informed?
  • Have all areas/equipment that are in place to assist a person(s) with a disability been checked and inspected?
    • Are there adequate procedures in place to clean such areas/equipment to avoid the spread of COVID-19 virus?
  • Is there any specific assistance needed for a person with a disability at work that relate to reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus (for example, assistance with handwashing, accessibility of hand sanitiser stations, etc.)?
  • Have any screens introduced for infection control created a barrier for those with disabilities (for example, screens at reception desks obstructing the lower counter or creating poor acoustics and glare)?
  • Are newly introduced one-way systems clearly signed and provide a clear access and egress route for all, without creating any physical barriers?
  • Is any newly introduced safety signage available for staff, visitors and contractors in a format that satisfies all types of disability?
    • Is it installed at a suitable height so individuals can read the information both in a seated and standing position?
    • As relevant has signage been installed on the leading edge of the walls rather than doors?
  • Is your floor-level safety signage easy to identify?
    • Is the floor signage made from a non-slip and non-reflective material?
    • Are there regular cleaning procedures in place for this signage and is the condition regularly assessed (for example to remove a potential trip hazard from forming)?
  • Has your customer facing staff received Disability and Equality Awareness training?
    • Are they aware of the hidden disability campaign and the significance of the sunflower lanyard?
  • If there are reduced numbers of people in the building, are the provisions in place for an individual with a disability still suitable or should they be reviewed, for example, the use of evacuation chairs?
  • Have the details for the building been updated on your website/intranet to incorporate all changes made in relation to COVID-19 secure control measures (for example, if a one-way system is in place, it would be useful to mention where the entrance is located and whether face coverings are expected to be worn upon arrival)?

At Assurity Consulting we have a number of trained and NRAC qualified auditors who can help you establish where you are with the levels of your provision for disability under the Equality Act 2010, and identify what, if anything, you can do to enhance and improve this provision.

Assurity Consulting is the UK’s leading independent consultancy specialising in workplace health, safety and environmental solutions. As your partner in compliance management you will reap the benefit of our more than 30 years’ experience of helping customers across a range of different sectors – manage their compliance responsibilities as effectively as possible. If you need any help with your health, safety or environmental compliance, or if you would like more information on the services Assurity Consulting offer, please get in touch.