Fire Safety in Care Homes
In a care home environment, every design aspect must be planned with precision and a sensitive awareness towards the safety of every resident. Fire safety is an essential consideration for care homes — vulnerable residents must be looked after and safeguarded when it comes to both fire prevention and response. In this piece, we are looking at the current state of fire safety in care homes, including what needs to change and how improvements can be made.
Why is fire safety in care homes so important?
The nature of a care home should immediately put a greater focus on the importance of fire safety. Often, it will be families who choose a care home for an elderly relative; when making that choice, their loved one’s safety is of the utmost concern. Residents in a care home are there to be looked after, to feel safe, secure and comfortable. When a care home fails in its fire safety responsibilities, it fails the residents who live there and it fails the families of those residents.
Recent findings show that care homes are failing fire audits
The London Fire Brigade (LFB) recently carried out fire audits across 177 care homes in the capital. The results of these audits show a disappointing and alarming trend: over half of the care homes inspected failed these vital safety inspections. 101 (57%) of these care homes didn’t meet sufficient fire safety standards, and 47% were found to have unsuitable fire risk assessments. Neglecting a fire risk assessment, or performing one to insufficient standards, engenders a feeling of carelessness and unnecessary risk. In a care home, this is something which should be avoided at all times.
The in-depth LFB inspections found the following specific fire safety issues:
- One in three care homes had ‘inadequate or poorly maintained fire doors’
- One in seven homes had ‘poor emergency planning’
- One in ten homes provided ‘inadequate training for their staff’
The audits also found that roofs were not being included in fire risk assessments, and that there was ‘widespread confusion’ regarding fire evacuation strategies.
Putting all of this together paints a bleak picture, but by highlighting these findings now, steps can be taken in the future to improve fire safety standards in care homes.
Care home fire regulations
Fire regulations for a care home are more complex than many other premises. Fire safety requirements for care homes are governed by the following:
- Care Home Regulations Act (2001)
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
The Care Home Regulations Act (2001) — amended in 2003 — comprehensively details many aspects of fire safety in care homes, outlining the necessary regulations needed before a care home can be deemed suitable for use. This includes the appointment of a registered person, who is responsible for the following:
- Consulting with the fire authority
- The provision of suitable fire equipment
- The maintenance of all fire equipment
- Regular reviews of fire precautions and equipment testing
- Carrying out regular fire drills and practice evacuation procedures (ensuring these are all recorded)
- Ensuring that staff are properly trained and aware of fire safety procedures
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 handles all fire safety regulations for non-domestic properties. This document provides clear guidance for managers — and the responsible person — regarding fire prevention, staff training, fire risk assessments, emergency procedures, maintenance, communication and much more.
In addition to these documents, the government has also produced a thorough fire risk assessment guide for residential care properties. In this guide, care providers have thorough guidance to help them plan, identify, arrange and maintain a dedicated fire safety plan. You can find the guide here.
The importance of fire risk assessments
Fire risk assessments are of ultimate importance for any premises. For a care home, a thorough assessment is the only way to identify any fire safety risks unique to that building. Fire risk assessments examine all aspects of a care home to quantify how well prepared the space is with regards to prevention of, and response to, a fire. These are not a ‘one and done’ procedure; fire risk assessments need to be regularly carried out to ensure the care home is properly protected at all times. This is even more important should the care home undergo any structural changes — during a redesign, for instance.
By performing in-depth, suitable fire risk assessments, you can safeguard residents with targeted fire safety precautions, ensuring all spaces within the care home — both communal and private — are assessed with the full safety of residents and staff in mind.
Fire hazards in care homes
Care homes have specific fire hazards within the building. These can include personal items used by residents as well as key operational equipment used by staff. It’s important to understand that fire safety precautions in a care home will be different to other premises. As a unique environment, care providers must be aware of the range of hazards that may not be normally considered in other types of non-domestic buildings. Some of these include:
Medical oxygen – tanks and cylinders of medical oxygen may be used by a number of residents. These pressurised, highly flammable oxygen containers present a significant fire hazard, so precautions need to be taken to ensure proper healthcare can be provided without putting residents at risk.
How to minimise risk:
- Store medical oxygen cylinders away from sources of heat
- Ensure no matches, lighters or cigarettes are used in the same room/area as the oxygen tanks
Fire doors left propped open or poorly maintained – LFB inspections highlighted the improper use or maintenance of fire doors. Fire doors work by compartmentalising the interior of a building, helping to slow the spread of fire by keeping it localised to specific areas. Propping these doors open negates their purpose, and if they remain in poor condition for years at a time, they will be significantly less effective should a fire break out.
How to minimise risk:
- Keep fire doors shut at all times
- Perform regular maintenance of the doors, having them repaired or replaced as necessary
Poor emergency planning – While not a physical hazard, poor emergency planning is arguably the most damaging fire hazard in a care home. When designing — or redesigning — a care home, emergency evacuation routes must be planned carefully, so they can provide clear, easy and safe emergency escape to residents of all ages and conditions. Poor emergency planning greatly increases the threat of injury and fatalities during a fire, so this must be rectified immediately.
How to minimise risk:
- Proper evacuation route design as part of the construction of the care home
- Personalised evacuation planning for residents
- Regular training and practice
Ageing electrical equipment – electrical faults can occur at any time. Personal electrical equipment in residents’ bedrooms, as well as older electronic appliances in communal areas and kitchens, can pose a fire hazard if they have not been tested regularly.
How to minimise risk:
- Regular testing of electrical appliances
- Ensure the proper fire extinguishers are in place and easy to access (CO2 extinguishers are recommended for electrical fires)
Clutter and obstacles – in the event of an emergency evacuation, clutter and obstacles in corridors will slow down and complicate the evacuation process. Residents must be provided with a completely clear and safe route outside, so ensuring that all paths are kept clear is essential.
How to minimise risk:
- Regularly inspect evacuation routes to make sure they are unobstructed
- Store or dispose of unused or unnecessary objects — inspect the premises regularly to minimise the chance of clutter
Care home evacuation planning
Planning the evacuation procedure in a care home is one of the most important tasks for any operator. A single plan will not cover every resident; differences in age, mobility, hearing, vision, and more, make creating an efficient evacuation plan quite the challenge.
A significant consideration is the creation of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for those who require assistance to reach a safepoint during an emergency. This involves tailoring an evacuation procedure for individual residents, taking into account their exact needs to provide the safest route away from danger. This will include the following:
- Having staff trained and familiar with individual evacuation plans
- Recording each resident’s response to alarms — some residents may have unexpected/unpredictable responses to loud, continuous noise. Regular testing will help to plan for this
- Have annual fire risk assessments
- If full evacuation isn’t possible, ensure internal safe areas can be reached — for residents who may be bed-bound, for example
The evacuation plan can be largely informed during the planning stages of the care home construction. By liaising with an experienced third party — such as a property consultant with a history in the sector — you can create a layout that answers important fire safety questions through the design of the building. For example, you can start to plan where fire doors are essential, how best to separate kitchen areas from residential areas to minimise risk, and you can take into account how more independent residents will move through the space. Pre-planning for an evacuation route will solve a lot of issues well in advance.
By adhering to fire risk assessments — carrying them out regularly and revising them as the building itself changes — as well as planning ahead for specific fire safety issues that arise in a care home, you can improve the fundamental safety standards for your residents. In turn, this provides peace of mind for families and their loved ones, and safeguards the reputation and level of trust associated with your care home.
Aedifice provide a range of property services to care home providers, offering our professional advice for new build care homes and refurbishments. If you’d like to discuss how we can help you in the planning and design of a care home, contact us today.