Due to a decline in fire services across the UK, it is important to better understand the need for improved practices in care home fire safety.
Between 2011-2016, funding for national fire services was reduced by 26% to 39%, depending on the area. Over the same period, some 11,000+ fire-fighting roles disappeared. Since 2016, the National Fire Service has seen a further 20% slash in funding, according to the government research document Effect of reductions in funding to police, fire and rescue services.
This situation means that it is more important than ever to have an understanding of fire safety principles and knowledge of prevention methods that could prove critical in both preventing and dealing with workplace fires.
This article discusses some simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of fires breaking out in residential care homes and the general workplace.
Care Home Fire Safety Requirements
Workplaces are required to have appropriate safety equipment installed on the premises. The following are a list of requirements that are generally covered by law in the UK.
Safety equipment typically includes fire extinguishers, fire escapes, emergency lighting, fire alarms, and smoke detectors.
Secondly, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates that a ‘responsible person’ or fire marshal, ordinarily a landlord, building owner, or employer, must carry out fire risk assessments. All care homes should have a designated responsible person on-site at any time.
The role of a responsible person in terms of fire safety includes:
- Regular inspections of the premises for fire hazards
- Accurate and up-to-date reporting of actions taken to minimise risks or rectify problems
- General maintenance of fire-fighting equipment held on-site – as well as keeping accurate documentation relating to said maintenance
- Ensuring staff know what to do in a fire, where to congregate and how to evacuate patients, visitors and other workers safely should a fire start
- Training staff on fire safety best practices at least on an annual basis
Fire safety drills, which need to be implemented and documented, typically should take place at least twice a year. Each member of staff should participate at least once per year. Beyond this, the frequency of drills should reflect the level of risk.
Fire drills aside, some activities will require monthly, weekly and even daily checks.
Daily checks typically involve ensuring any obstructions are removed from designated evacuation routes along with anything that obstructs the line of sight to fire safety signage.
Weekly, it is advisable to check that all fire safety doors are in working order, usually by checking that they open and close properly.
All fire alarms should be tested, and ensure that the batteries are operational in all smoke detectors. Emergency lighting systems should be checked for faults as well.
As part of your care home’s monthly routine, all fire extinguishers should be checked by the designated responsible person. They should ensure that operational instructions and signage are properly visible and that the pressure gauge on each extinguisher is in the correct position.
Emergency lights should be subject to a more thorough test, paying particular attention to ensuring that they give off a sufficient level of illumination. Fire doors should also be subjected to thorough testing, making sure that the seals and frames are in good condition.
Annually, a fully-qualified and accredited technician should inspect all fire protection equipment. A British Approvals for Fire Equipment approved technician must also perform a detailed check of all fire extinguishers on-site, seeking out any signs of corrosion and testing each component on them. It will also be weighed to ensure that it is properly stocked.
Finally, every five years, a technician will empty the fire extinguishers, check for internal faults, and refill them.
Much safer and more effective than trying to escape or put out fires is placing focus on preventing a fire from breaking out in the first place.
The leading causes of fires are faulty wiring and power outlets. Fortunately, these fires are also the easiest to avoid. Make a point of regularly checking cords for signs of fraying, and invest in replacing damaged wires should they be found.
Installing surge protectors on high voltage electronics prevents them from catching fire during power spikes. Also, make a point of not placing rugs, coverings, or furniture over wires, since this can cause them to fray and catch fire.
During the winter months, there may be a requirement in care homes to use portable heaters. This is particularly common with elderly patients in self-contained units or their own domestic homes.
Heaters frequently cause fires, yet, as with faulty wiring, it is easy to minimise the risks. Not using extension cords or overloading the outlets that they are plugged into helps prevent dangerous power surges, and switching them off at the end of the workday (or when the user retires to bed) reduces the risk of them developing faults.
Making sure they are at least three feet away from other furniture items, or any combustible material reduces the risk of them catching fire.
Purchasing heaters that have safety features included, as standard, is a way to reduce the risk of portable heaters greatly. Pay particular attention to ones which automatically switch off after being active for a certain length of time, or if they have been knocked over.
Related to the use of heaters, make sure you don’t have a build-up of combustible materials on site. Make sure you properly dispose of rubbish, storing it in a designated area away from the workplace.
If it must be stored on-site, then make sure an adequate amount of fire safety equipment is nearby. Having a trained fire warden on-site to identify potential hazards helps to further minimise the risk. It is their responsibility to ensure that the site is safe.
Dust is also a fire hazard - a large build-up of it could explode if ignited. Areas likely to build up dust should have sufficient ventilation, and proper cleaning practices maintained.
A final fire risk in residential or private care homes is related to smoking. The incorrect disposal of discarded cigarette butts can result in combustible material catching alight.
According to the law, residential care homes are exempt from the UK smoke-free legislation. Although it is not a legal requirement, care homes are encouraged to offer designated indoor communal smoking rooms as an alternative to residents smoking in their bedrooms. This helps reduce the risk of fires starting in isolated areas where it is more likely for fires to spread quicker unnoticed.
If residents are allowed to smoke, make sure that proper cigarette disposal bins are installed, and that those who use cigarettes correctly dispose of them when finished.
The building’s designated smoking areas should be situated far from potential flammable sources and the main building.
To train your staff on fire safety within care homes, go to our Fire Safety training page, where we have a range of courses from Fire Marshal training to Train the Trainer courses which allow your staff to train their peers.
For further information of fire safety, check out our articles on inspecting fire extinguishers or the types of fire your organisation may be vulnerable to.