Care home owners legally must abide by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order of 2005. To comply with the order, care home managers must designate a Responsible Person (RP) to coordinate strategy in the event of a fire. They are also responsible for preventative measures, all care home fire safety and, ultimately, an evacuation plan should the worst happen.
The (FRS) Fire and Rescue Services conduct regular inspections on high-risk, non-domestic premises such as care homes to ensure organisations comply with regulations and take the necessary precautions to minimise risk to members of the public.
While care organisations are an area of interest, any company may be inspected if they have had a fire or receive the attention of the FRS by a third party. Minor concerns may lead to inspection, and this article is to help prepare you regarding what to expect if inspectors arrive on site.
The terms used to describe the role of Fire Safety Inspector by each Fire and Rescue Service across the country may differ due to the size of the department involved, but they may be referred to as Fire Prevention Officers, Fire Safety Enforcement Officers or Fire Safety Inspectors. In this article, we shall refer to them as Fire Safety Enforcement Officers, as the role is typically the same across them all.
Care home fire safety – who is responsible for patients, employees and the public?
Depending on the size of the care home this could be the manager or an employee that is assigned the role of Responsible Person. This person is responsible for assessing risks, creating an evacuation plan, the disclosure of any high-risk materials and waste to the fire service and any precautions that need to be taken on-site to minimise the level of risk to life in the event of a fire.
Care home fire safety starts with management and the designated Responsible Person. It then filters through the staff who should be aware of any risks in the care home. Where risks are identified, the Responsible Person should look to minimise the risk and liaise directly with management. Issues can be resolved through planning and future training.
Who enforces care home fire safety laws?
In a specific geographical region, it is typically a Fire Safety Enforcement Officer (or fire prevention office) from the local Fire and Rescue Service (fire brigade). They legally have the right to enter premises at any reasonable hour, without notice to assess properties they believe are at risk.
Typically the officer will give an appropriate warning and arrange a visit when the Responsible Person is present, but care home staff should be aware that they can enter the property without consent if they believe there is a credible risk. This flexibility ensures that they can enforce breaches of the Fire Safety order at short notice as fires by their nature tend to be spontaneous.
It is extremely important that care home managers ensure their policies and procedures relating to Fire Safety are up to date at all times. Elements are also necessary for care home compliance.
A part of the Fire Safety Enforcement Officer role centres on guidance and, where possible they’ll help inform care homes of the steps that need to be taken in advance to minimise risk. Care home teams are encouraged to seek advice directly from the fire brigade as a way of alleviating any concerns they may have.
Visits from the Fire Safety Enforcement Officer may include the review of general activities in the nursing home. A visit includes an audit of documents and procedures in place and a thorough review of the fire risk assessment plan for the care home. They will speak to employees, evaluate the readiness of onsite fire safety equipment, investigate escape routes and advise on additional measures the organisation may need to take.
Any breach the inspector finds will result in one of the following outcomes. The severity of the breach dictates the type of action that is required. Actions include:
Informal notice - For minor breaches, the Responsible Person is informed, during or after the inspection, of what the issues are and advised on how the organisation can meet the requirements as set out by law. An informal notice will be left with the care home with the Responsible Person expected to confirm within a set period that the company has taken action based on advice.
Enforcement notice - Serious breaches will result in the officer issuing an enforcement notice informing the care home management team what they are required to do in order to comply with the law. This list will explain what is to be done, by what date it needs to be completed, and why the corrections are needed. The officer typically will give notice of a repeat visit within 21 days (or whatever is deemed appropriate for the type of breach) so that the organisation can put things right.
Organisations can make an appeal to a magistrates court where the action will be difficult in the time frame, but it is recommended, where possible, that any and every effort is made to correct any issues.
Alteration notice - Alteration Notices are issued if the officer is of the opinion that there is a serious risk to the public or employees within the care home. Typical instances include whether, due to the feature of the premises, its use, any hazard present, or any other circumstances, may constitute such a risk if a change is made to them or the use to which they are put.
The notice must state that the enforcing authority found that the matters identified constitute a risk to the public/relevant persons.
The Responsible Person for the company must address any risks reducing it to a satisfactory level if an alteration notice has been issued. They will be informed in writing about the right to appeal at a magistrate’s court. Before making any changes that could result in a significant increase in risk, they must notify the enforcing authority of the proposed changes.
Prohibition notice - The most serious of any notice given is prohibition. Where there is a serious risk to a care home, such that individuals are in imminent danger, emergency powers can be called upon to prohibit or restrict any place of work until the risk has been minimised to an acceptable level. The notice explains why any action is necessary and what is deemed acceptable. The right to appear, if any, will be confirmed in writing.
Prosecution - For extreme breaches, where warnings are ignored, the inspector can initiate prosecution against the Responsible Person and care organisation for failing to comply with fire safety law. This can result in a fine or if life is lost a prison sentence.
Information to employees - Care Home Fire Safety
A key part of any fire risk assessment includes the dissemination of information to the workforce. The inspector may meet or wish to speak to employees during an inspection, unless this is inappropriate at the time (i.e. manually moving patients, administering medication).
During the officer's visit, they may check that management have arrangements in place for consulting with and informing employees about fire safety matters. It is important that all staff understand the risks in the workplace, and how to respond if the fire alarm is raised. The care home management team, and its employees, are responsible for their patients, the public and each other.
Management should be proactive when it comes to fire safety and open to any care home fire safety visit. Honesty is the best approach and, where possible, managers should make arrangements for any employees to speak in private if necessary. Encouraging care workers to take fire safety seriously can bode well in audits and more importantly save lives in the long run.
Fire safety prevention is a requirement by law. It is prudent to invest in staff in care homes so that they attend at least one course covering basic fire safety training. The Responsible Person must understand all aspects of the process and Care Managers should ensure that the Responsible Person attends training courses appropriate to the level of risk.
Our Fire Safety Awareness training teaches the essentials for the Responsible Person (who would also benefit from taking a Fire Marshal course), as well as fire prevention for all staff, details on how to operate fire extinguishers, risk assessments and emergency protocols. Further courses are available specific to Health & Safety in care, including Food Safety and First Aid training.