Ar C.J. Walsh – Consultant Architect, Fire Engineer & Technical Controller – International Expert on Sustainability Implementation + Accessibility-for-All + Fire Safety for All + Sustainable Fire Engineering
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
2012-02-18: It will be of interest to people in this part of the world that Hong Kong has introduced a New Code of Practice on Fire Safety in Buildings, which will come into effect from 1 April 2012. The reason for this interest will be strange and unusual …
Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (3.96 Mb)
The following extract from the Foreward (paragraph #3) to this Code of Practice explains how it came to be developed … and then issued back in September 2011 …
This Code of Practice may be cited as the Code of Practice for Fire Safety in Buildings. It is prepared and issued by the Buildings Department on the basis of the consultancy study on fire engineering approach and fire safety in buildings. The consultancy study was conducted by Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd., commissioned by the Buildings Department, and was supervised by a Steering Committee comprising representatives of professional institutions and other stakeholders of the building industry, as well as other Government Departments.
It so happens that, here, a few weeks ago … I was wondering how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was being implemented in a number of countries which had ratified it. China ratified the Convention on 1 August 2008. Once again, this is Article 11 …
UN CRPD Article 11 – Situations of Risk & Humanitarian Emergencies
States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.
[ Note: An outbreak of fire in a building is a situation of serious risk for all vulnerable building users ! ]
So … what has been the response of Hong Kong to this issue … and to the voluntary obligation which China has accepted, under International Law, to comply with Article 11 of the UN CRPD ?
The issue has been completely ignored in the New Code of Practice !
For reasons which can sometimes be complex … individuals and disability-related organizations are reluctant to make valid complaints … at local, regional or national levels in their countries.
This must stop ! If nobody complains … nothing will change !!
The following documents should now be used as a Proper Model for Making a Complaint … at any level. And should all domestic remedies be exhausted at national level in a State Party … you will have saved yourself a lot of time and energy, should you decide to take matters further … because the complaint will already be in the correct CRPD format …
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – 15 June 2011
2011-04-29: A Meeting of CIB Working Commission 14: ‘Fire Safety’ took place at the Headquarters of Groupe AFNOR … Association Française de NORmalisation … which is located just outside the centre of Paris, France … on Monday, 11 April 2011.
These meetings are typically, though not always, co-ordinated with a long series of ISO Technical Committee 92: ‘Fire Safety’ Meetings at the same venue. Both technical bodies have a very good working relationship, and there is a strong interchange of membership between the two. The recent revision to the description and scope of CIB W14 will be of enormous benefit to all.
Some Matters of Interest at the CIB W14: ‘Fire Safety’ Meeting – Presentations & Discussions about Two of the Current Pre-Normative Innovation & Research Projects …
1.CIB W14 Working Group IV: ‘Structural Reliability & Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse’
See the Dedicated Page on this Technical Web Log (Tech-BLOG) Site … https://cjwalsh.ie/progressive-collapse-fire/ … for the latest update on the Research Project … which has proposed the following, as a Rational Route Forward …
A.Mainstream the Language, Practices, Procedures and Design Methodologies of Fire Science & Engineering … so that other design disciplines can appreciate that Ethical Fire Science & Engineering also has a sound, modern, rational and empirical basis. [Task for CIB W14]
B. Raise awareness about the primacy, and encourage the wide acceptance, of Fire Serviceability Limit States in Structural Fire Engineering … and the universal requirement that buildings must resist Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse and, in addition, also resist Disproportionate Damage. [Task for CIB W14 Working Group IV]
C. Indicate the need for, and foster the development of, innovative Structural Thermal Insulation Fire Protection Systems which are durable, can resist mechanical damage in ambient and fire conditions, and can be properly shown to be ‘fit for their intended life-cycle use’. [Task for the Fire Industry]
D. In steel construction … depending on its location in a building and having designed sufficiently robust connections for fire conditions … show why, where and how Thermal Insulation must now be used to maintain a Lower Temperature in the Steel … in order to ensure that its deformations (+/- deflection, expansion and distortion, etc.) remain within design parameters … both during the fire and, for a minimum period afterwards, during the ‘cooling phase’. [Task for CIB W14 Working Group IV]
E. Encourage the development of Fire Engineering Design Guidelines for new and existing buildings, along with the Decision Support Tools needed for their use in practice … to support #2 and #4 above. And propose how Existing Code/Regulation Provisions and Standards should be suitably updated and revised. [Task for the International Fire Science & Engineering Community]
During the discussion which followed my presentation, and having reviewed progress … it was generally felt that the time was now ripe to prepare a Discussion Document for Comment. This will be circulated about a month before the next meeting of CIB W14 … to be held in October 2011.
2.CIB W14 Working Group 5: ‘Fire Incident Human Behaviour & Abilities’
The photograph above was actually taken during the presentation of this Research Project … at the time being given by Project Leader, Douglas Hillhouse, Organizer of the Fire Risk Engineering Programme at Glasgow Caledonian University, in Scotland.
Prior to the Paris Meeting, Douglas had circulated a Project Discussion Document for Comment … which was focused mainly on people with disabilities. The Co-Ordinator of CIB W14, Prof. Dr. George Hadjisophocleous, was pleased to see this Research Project develop and gather momentum.
During the discussion which followed the Presentation, I made the following points …
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted on 13 December 2006; it came into force, i.e. became an International Legal Instrument, on 3 May 2008; and it was ratified by a European Union (E.U.) having, for the first time after the Lisbon Treaty, its own separate legal personality … on 23 December 2010.
In February 2011 … the 2010 European Foundation Centre (EFC) Report: ‘Study on Challenges and Good Practices in the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’, was approved for publication by the European Commission. Under a duty of loyal co-operation, which derives from Article 4.3 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), each E.U. Member State is now obliged to properly implement the critical accessibility-related provisions of the UN CRPD, i.e. Preamble (g) and Articles 4.3, 9, 10, 11, with 31 & 33.
The Final Draft of International Standard … ISO FDIS 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’ … was registered with ISO Central Secretariat on 17 March 2011. In spite of the technically flawed submission from ISO Technical Committee 92 to ISO Technical Committee 59, which is responsible for the production of ISO 21542 … we had successfully managed to retain a substantive, and meaningful, body of text relating to Fire Safety for People with Activity Limitations.
Our concern, throughout this CIB W14 Research Project, would be Fire Safety for All … including people with a wide range of behavioural responses and physical/mental/cognitive/psychological abilities during a fire incident … including people with activity limitations, not just people with disabilities … and firefighters. The user profile in a ‘real’ building must be viewed as a continuum.
In attempting to provide better Fire Engineering Design Solutions for people with cognitive impairments, I had realized … many years ago … that the field of Cognitive Psychology offered huge potential for a paradigm shift in Fire Engineering Research. This potential will be identified in the Project.
Amongst the International Fire Science and Engineering Community, there is widespread ignorance about Panic and Panic Attacks … this may help to explain the irrational fear about dealing with this important issue … a fear which the WG 5 Project will confront !
Of Unrelated Interest ?
During visits to Paris, I regularly ‘pop-in’ to Père Lachaise Cemetery … in the east of the city. Access is very convenient … the Père Lachaise Métro Station being directly served by Lines 2 & 3. Here are the last resting places (?) of Some Interesting Personalities …
2011-04-07: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an issue, right here and now, for Architects in Ireland … and the Irish Built Environment, whoever designs, constructs, operates or manages it … not because this country has, or has not, ratified the Convention … but because the European Union has ratified this Convention ! And as we have all witnessed, on countless times since the early 1970’s … it has required a big stick from Europe to drag Ireland’s social legislation into the modern era.
UN CRPD Article 13 – Access to Justice
1.States Parties shall ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural and age-appropriate accommodations, in order to facilitate their effective role as direct and indirect participants, including as witnesses, in all legal proceedings, including at investigative and other preliminary stages.
2. In order to help to ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities, States Parties shall promote appropriate training for those working in the field of administration of justice, including police and prison staff.
Last week … from Monday, 28 March 2011 … until Thursday, 31 March 2011 … I attended as a Juror at the New Criminal Courts of Justice Building, which is located at the Main Gate to the Phoenix Park in Dublin … near the junction between Parkgate Street and Infirmary Road.
I was very curious to experience this new building as an ordinary user. However, I was not at all happy at the outcome … the accessibility performance was so inadequate.
In the case of this new building, it is clear that the Irish State has failed – is failing – to comply with Article 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … and is thus denying a basic human right to many people in our society.
Post Occupation Evaluation (POE) is not a well-known architectural concept among architects … and even when it is known, it is not the most favoured. This subject has, in my direct experience, been treated with light-hearted frivolity in 8 Merrion Square, Dublin ! Afterall, who wants to meet the failures of their cherished designs head-on … up-front and in their faces ?? To some architects, successes never seem to count as being of equal, or more, importance. But, they are both a vital tool in continuous learning.
POE, however, is a crucial part of work as a practicing architect. It is essential to feed previous design failures and successes … and ‘real’ information about building user/occupant behaviour … back into new projects ! This is ‘real’ CPD (Continuing Professional Development) in action … and a serious issue which is completely overlooked in the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland’s current approach to CPD !!
The reason so much of the built environment … so many buildings … is/are so inaccessible for many people … is not because designers have something against people with activity limitations … it is because designers just do not want human beings … anybody … to enter and use their buildings. People are so messy … and they always want to do silly things with a building which were never planned … or they want to change things around, spoiling ‘the design’ … etc., etc., etc.
This problem begins back in the architectural schools, and becomes a deeper problem on the professional practice courses organized by professional institutes … here, and in other countries. POE and building user/occupant behaviour is not covered … at all ! Can you believe that ?? I still can’t.
Tyranny of the Plan is another architectural concept. I will try to explain it this way. Take the photograph above. Why, for example, are there no handrails on the right hand side … the major part … of those steps ? Because of that Tyranny of the Plan Drawing ! It looked ‘right’ … beautiful, almost sexy … just to have handrails on that part of the steps leading from the main front doors … design movement was continued and controlled. This is not the same as people movement.
On Sunday morning last, I measured those steps myself … (riser) 150 mm in height x (going) 300 mm in depth … (2 x riser) + (1 x going) = 600 mm … ideal dimensions for steps inside a building … but not the most convenient, comfortable or safe dimensions for steps outside a building.
Handrails are definitely required throughout the full extent of the steps ! But, that would have looked very sloppy on the plan drawing. Now, however, take a closer look at those steps … looking down from above … and just imagine that you are a frail, older person and your sight may not be the greatest … that you are visually impaired in some manner …
The wrong type of tactile ground surface information is being given at the top and bottom of the steps … we would like to warn users of the hazard they are approaching, i.e. the steps, by using a ‘blister’ surface indicator … not direct them to turn left or right when they perceive those continuous ‘corduroy’ ridges. The horizontal handrail extensions at the top and bottom of the short flight of steps are insufficiently long. There is inadequate visual contrast at all of the step nosings (i.e. the leading top edges) which would have helped people to accurately locate those edges. And, as already referred to above, the step dimensions could have been greatly improved with a slight adjustment … for example, (riser) 125 mm in height x (going) 350 mm in depth … (2 x riser) + (1 x going) = 600 mm … much better altogether for steps outside a building ! Compare and contrast with the many Japanese photographs shown in earlier posts. There is no comparison ! This is sloppy work in Dublin.
Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), the Master German Architect, is often quoted as having said: “God is in the details”. Right on, Ludwig … ride ’em cowboy !!!
For security reasons, it was not possible to take any photographs inside the building. However, it was abundantly clear that accessibility for people with activity limitations, generally, was inadequate. While some small account had been taken of the needs of people using wheelchairs … people with a visual impairment would have a very difficult time using this building. Furthermore, when it came to the ‘swearing-in’ of Jurors at Court No.7, circulation was incredibly confined and restricted … I was having to squeeze myself forward in order to be ‘processed’. What a mess !
This was an unacceptable and very disappointing example of poor, misguided and minimalist accessibility implementation … making an ironclad case for effective independent verification of Accessibility Performance, as required by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … at the end of the design stage in a project, and especially during the actual process of construction … to ensure that an ‘informed’ design intention becomes reality.
UN CRPD Article 33 – National Implementation & Monitoring
1.States Parties, in accordance with their system of organization, shall designate one or more focal points within government for matters relating to the implementation of the present Convention, and shall give due consideration to the establishment or designation of a co-ordination mechanism within government to facilitate related action in different sectors and at different levels.
2.States Parties shall, in accordance with their legal and administrative systems, maintain, strengthen, designate or establish within the State Party, a framework, including one or more independent mechanisms, as appropriate, to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the present Convention. When designating or establishing such a mechanism, States Parties shall take into account the principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights.
3.Civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process.
And that is not the end of the story ! When construction of a building has been completed and it is then occupied, Competent Building Management is critical in maintaining an initial level of good accessibility performance throughout the life cycle of that building. Once again, however, the management of this building was sloppy … take a bow, the Courts Service of Ireland !
Symptoms of Larger Problems … Two Short Little Anecdotes …
a) Unheeded Building Evacuation Warning
In the middle of Roll Call, on the first morning that I attended as a Juror, a Voiced Stand-By Building Evacuation Warning was announced over the building’s public address system. It was explained that there had been ‘an incident’. That’s all … no other information was given. This announcement was repeated again, and again, and again. It then stopped, momentarily, and then started again. It finally ended.
During the announcements … we all looked around … there were at least 150 people in the room … then looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and smiled. We at least thought that the person in charge of the Roll Call would be in a position to quickly find out what was going on … but no, she also shrugged her shoulders and carried on calling out names.
Afterwards, I asked one of the many ushers what had happened … was it a serious incident ? He didn’t know, and just stated that ushers are generally told nothing.
This is entirely unacceptable ! Are clowns managing the New Criminal Courts of Justice Building in Dublin ??
b) Disrespectful ‘Swearing-In’ of Jurors
An Information Leaflet, produced by the Courts Service back in January 2010, entitled: ‘Attending for Jury Service’ … contains the following Introduction …
Jury Service is an important civic duty. It is a vital part of our criminal justice system. You must arrive on time to ensure trials are not delayed. To assist you we have prepared this leaflet which includes a map to guide you to (the) jury assembly area of the Criminal Courts of Justice.
Concerning ‘Swearing-In a Jury’ … it is stated in the Leaflet …
The court registrar calls out your name and asks you to take an oath on the Holy Book of your choice, or you may affirm.
From the beginning, nobody was informed about these options. On the final morning, when I was selected to be a Juror, the only Holy Book which was placed in front of Jurors was the Christian Bible. No other Holy Book was visible. Everyone was being processed in one way … without any consideration or respect for their dignity as an individual person.
With all of the stress of these occasions, and the formalities involved … the ‘Swearing-In’ Judge was even wearing a wig (I thought that those days were long gone !) … it would be all too easy for people … ‘automatically’, almost by reflex action, and not wanting to make a fuss … to go through a ‘standard’ processing procedure, which for them had little or no meaning. Is that the intended purpose of ‘Swearing-In’ ??
It may have escaped the attention of the Courts Service that Ireland is now a pluralist and richly varied multi-cultural society. Some people are religious, others are not … some people are Christians, others are Moslems, Jews or Buddhists, etc., etc … whatever !
A range of Holy Books must be visible to all Jurors … and they must all be informed about the option of ‘Affirming’ … before ‘Swearing-In’ commences !