We all know the devastating consequences fires can cause, yet earlier this year, the London Fire Brigade revealed that 57% of London-based care homes had failed basic fire safety checks.
The report revealed numerous safety issues, ranging from insufficiently protected escape routes and obstructed fire doors, to poor emergency planning and faulty electrical equipment.
Fire safety in care homes is imperative. If you don’t conduct regular fire safety checks, have an effective evacuation plan, or train your staff, then chances of a disaster are much higher. In fact, it’s never been more important – whilst the introduction of technology in care homes has brought many benefits, such heavy reliance on digitalisation can actually increase the risk of an outbreak of fire.
Read on, as we discuss how to create a successful prevention plan that your employees can follow, to not only reduce your risk of a fire, but to ensure that should a fire break out, everyone can vacate the building safely.
Regular fire risk assessments are key
A 2016/17 government report discovered that 47% of all fire fatalities in England were people aged 65+ – in fact, they’re ten times more at risk than younger people. That’s why it’s so important you follow fire safety regulations in your care home.
Firstly, you must nominate a Responsible Person, who is essentially in charge of fire safety. Typically, this is the manager of the care home. If the Responsible Person doesn’t have time to conduct a fire risk assessment, they can appoint a Competent Person to do it instead, which is often a professional risk assessor.
When carrying out a fire risk assessment, there are often additional risks in care homes that may not be present in standard homes. Also, as your residency turnover is likely to be high, it’s crucial you conduct regular audits, to take into account individual needs and restrictions.
A fire risk assessment includes the following five steps:
Identify fire hazards
Reviewing the whole care home, think about how a fire could initially start, and what could burn – you may even have examples of “near misses” such as cigarette burns, charred sockets or scorch marks on furniture.
Keep sources of ignition (lighting equipment, faulty equipment, electric or gas heaters, and any smoking materials) separate from sources of fuel (toiletries, waste products, flammable products such as cleaning products, laundry and paper products).
Once you’ve identified these risks, you’ll need to consider how to keep the fire contained in one place, so it doesn’t spread quickly and cause devastation. For example, ensure that no fire doors are wedged open.
Identify who is at risk
The next step for fire safety in care homes, is to identify who is most at risk. It’s highly likely your residents will be more at risk than your staff, simply because they may not be as mobile, or could be more frightened.
Therefore, a hugely important step in your risk assessment is to create a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP), to ensure that each individual needs are addressed, so they can get safely out of the building. Mobility, sight, hearing and cognitive impairments must all be considered.
Evaluate how to reduce these risks
Now you’ve identified the risks in your care home, and who is most at risk, you need to identify how to reduce these risks.
Check that all fire extinguishers are working correctly, evacuation routes are clear of any obstacles, the fire doors close properly, and any faulty electrical equipment is dealt with correctly. Don’t forget to review general housekeeping too as part of your fire safety regulations, as anything can be lethal if it comes into contact with fire.
Keep a record of the assessment
Fire safety in care homes state that by law, every business with more than five employees must have a written record of their risk assessment.
By writing down every single identified risk, and how it has been mitigated, it’s easier to create a plan that employers can refer to on how to prevent a fire, and how to protect residents.
Every single member of staff should have access to both training, and a record of the assessment.
Review your fire risk assessment
Simply conducting a fire risk assessment isn’t enough – things change, and new risks could appear without you realising.
When reviewing your risks, don’t forget to assess your roof – roof voids are a culprit in increasing the severity of a fire. Tragically, two residents of a care home died in 2017 after the fire travelled through the voids in the roof. As a result, both the director and manager of the care home were faced with charges of breaching the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, having failed to conduct an efficient fire risk assessment.
Ensure your evacuation plan is efficient and effective
Carrying out regular risk assessments is a step in the right direction, but you need to ensure that every care home has an evacuation plan too. However, when you’re responsible for residents that may have dementia, limited mobility, or rely on oxygen therapy equipment; evacuating a burning building can be much more challenging.
The whole point of an evacuation strategy is to not only get people out of the building as quickly and safely as possible, but to prevent the spread of fire and smoke.
Fire safety in care homes includes ensuring fire exit routes remain unobstructed, and having clear, functional signage and emergency lighting, to help deaf or hard of hearing residents.
Depending on employee shift patterns, you may need to consider several strategies, to ensure that there is appropriate staff cover. Your plan may also need to include arrangements for residents who will use a bedroom as a temporary safe refuge – in which case, these rooms will need to have appropriate safety measures.
Part of your fire safety training in your care home is to test each evacuation plan through scenario training and fire drills. However, only involve residents if it won’t cause any unreasonable risk.
As mentioned already, it’s essential to create PEEPs to ensure every individual can evacuate the building safely. Fire safety regulations state that a PEEP must be conducted prior to a resident moving into a care home, and then reviewed 14 days after, and then re-reviewed every six months.
Whether bespoke plans may include evacuation chairs, or an individual receiving notification of a fire via a personal pager, these details must be documented so that staff are aware of every single plan.
Because of these needs, it’s typical for care homes to have several methods of evacuation – contact your local fire service if you’re unsure of the best method.
Single stage evacuation is used for residents, staff and visitors that fall in the ‘independent’ category, and can vacate the building without requiring assistance.
The second category is Progressive Horizontal Evacuation (PHE), which is carried out in two stages:
- Stage 1: Moving people who are most at risk away from the fire, horizontally, to a place that is relatively safe, such as an unaffected fire compartment.
- Stage 2: The continuation of a PHE, by moving residents to other safe places, until they are out of the building.
You may opt for a silent evacuation instead, where staff are alerted via a pre-alarm notification system, so they can check the building five minutes prior to the alarm sounding; as this can help to reduce the distress that false alarms may cause residents.
Conduct fire safety training for staff
Having efficient fire risk assessments and evacuation plans won’t count for anything unless you train your staff.
From online courses, to refresher sessions and safety drills, there are many ways you can do this – and every new starter will need to go through this training.
You’ll also need to designate fire wardens, and the number you have depends on how many residents and staff you have:
- 1-15 staff and residents: At least one fire warden
- 16-50 staff and residents: At least two fire wardens
- Every additional 50 staff and residents: At least one additional fire warden
When planning shifts, you’ll need to ensure there are an adequate number of wardens at all times.
When it comes to fire safety training in care homes, you should also make sure that staff know how to use equipment such as blankets, evacuation chairs and fire extinguishers. It also goes without saying that staff know how to maintain good housekeeping, such as quickly cleaning up hazardous spillages, storing hazardous chemicals safely, and removing waste from the premises.
Fire safety in residential care homes: final thoughts
As care homes are home to some of the most vulnerable people in the country, it’s crucial that you conduct regular risk assessments, evacuation plans and staff training, to reduce the risk and severity of a fire spreading.
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