Recommendations for disabled refuge areas | ESP

Recommendations for disabled refuge areas | ESP

Matt Tighe, Technical Service Manager at ESP, looks at the specific recommendation for refuge areas to be provided with an emergency voice communication (EVC) system conforming to BS 5839-9 and the provision of such an EVC system.

It is essential that persons can escape from a building should fire occur. The building regulations in all parts of the United Kingdom have similar requirements. For example, in England Regulation B1 states:

“The building shall be designed and constructed so that there are appropriate provisions for the early warning of fire, and appropriate means of escape in case of fire from the building to a place of safety outside the building capable of being safely and effectively used at all material times.”

It is always necessary for all persons to escape; this will include those with disabilities which precludes rapid and safe evacuation. There will, therefore, be times when it will be necessary for persons escaping to have access to areas where it is safe to wait for a short period; such areas are called refuges.

Approved Document B Volume 2 Fire Safety 2019 (incorporating 2020 and 2022 amendments) (ADB2) gives guidance on the recommendations for refuges to ensure compliance with legislation. Further guidance is also given in BS 9999: 2017 Fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings – Code of practice.

This article briefly considers the specific recommendation for refuge areas to be provided with an emergency voice communication (EVC) system conforming to BS 5839-9 and the provision of such an EVC system, such as those produced by ESP under the Beacon Range.


The presence and nature of a refuge will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Fig 1 is based on Diagram 3.1 and Fig 2 on Diagram 3.2 of ADB2. These detail examples of refuges formed in a protected stairway.

Fig 1.

There may be instances where a refuge extends into rooms which are near those exemplar areas detailed in DB2. Annex G of BS 9999 details other examples of refuge areas.

Fig 2.

Approved Document B

In the refuge, ADB2 recommends that the EVC system consists of Type B outstations communicating with a master station in the building control room (should one exist) or next to the fire detection and alarm panel. It is permitted for the EVC system to be wireless.

BS 9999

Clause 45.8 of BS 9999 recognises that refuges are places of relative safety and references the normative annex G in the Standard.

Once the number and locations of refuges have been decided by the key stakeholders (see Clause 5 BS 5839-9), Annex G recommends that procedures are established for independent communication between the occupants and evacuation management personnel.

The recommendations detailed in clause 45.8 and Annex G of BS 9999 will require an emergency voice communication system to be installed.

The emergency voice communication system should conform to the recommendations of BS 5839-9: 2021 Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings. Part 9: Code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of emergency voice communication systems.

A beacon of light

The Beacon Emergency Voice Communications (EVC) system is designed to fully comply with BS 5839-9:2021 for use as a Fire Telephone system, Disabled Refuge Call system or as a combined system when both Fire Telephones and Disabled Refuge Points are required.

The system comprises of a Master Station and one or more outstations. Additionally, the “Assist Call” emergency assistance alarm system can either be connected to the same line as a Type B outstation or connected to a dedicated line. Neither the outstations nor the “Assist Call” emergency alarm system requires a separate power supply unit as each line is powered from the Master Station. This has the additional benefit of each line being fully monitored and battery backed up.

Each Beacon Master Station can also perform as a Beacon Repeater Station. A Beacon Repeater Station mimics the Beacon Master Station both in operation and indication.

The Beacon Master Station has been designed for radial star topology. In most cases this will reduce the cable requirements for all ring-based systems. The topology consists of spurs formed of one two-core 1.5mm2 CSA cables (soft skin enhanced up to 500 m per leg, MICC 200 m per leg) to each outstation.

If the Beacon Master Station and the Beacon Repeater Station are distributed around a site, it is essential that both Beacon Stations are on the same mains phase. Powering from different phases can mean a 400 V potential can be present in a Beacon Station during a major fault incident.

BS 5839-9

The purpose of BS 5839-9 is not to provide a justification for the installation of EVC systems, rather to provide recommendations for the planning, design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of such systems.

The scope to the Standard makes it clear that, other than in exceptional circumstances, EVC systems are not intended as a means of raising a fire alarm instead of manual call points (MCPs).

The designer of the EVC system should adequately consult with key stakeholders at the design stage. Such key stakeholders are:

● User or purchaser,

● Supplier of the system,

● Installer of the system,

● Consultants, including architects M&E, fire safety, access, acoustic and risk assessment – clause 5.

To the extent necessary, the installer of the system should consult with the designer, supplier and consultants.

An EVC system is typically required in the following situations:

● In any building or sports or similar venue where there are disabled people, or people who may have difficulty negotiating the evacuation route.

● In buildings with phased evacuation and/or firefighting lifts where it facilitates secure communications for building managers, fire wardens, and attending fire officers.

● At sports venues and similar complexes, where it will assist stewards in controlling the evacuation of the area in an emergency.


The provision of an EVC system is essential in those premises where it is likely that the less able-bodied are present and where the nature of the people on the premises is likely to create problems for evacuation. The EVC system will enable those responsible for managing evacuation to safely manage, insofar as they are able, the evacuation.

Browse the online ESP Beacon range brochure here

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