A care home has a legal duty to ensure that any risk from fire or the effects of fire are kept to an absolute minimum. In order to accurately assess the level of risk, as a responsible care provider, you would need to do a formal risk assessment. The following article covers the basics for care home fire safety risk assessments.
A fire risk assessment is carried out by a dedicated responsible person within the organisation. It is their responsibility to look at any of the possible risks and hazards and put in place a list of protocols to minimise risk. These protocols would include a plan on how to deal with those hazards, assess additional risks in an emergency, establish safe escape routes and ensure that all fire safety equipment on-site remains accessible and maintained.
The first part of this risk assessment is to identify any and all hazards. Hazards will vary from one workplace to another. Each individual hazard and type of fire risk needs to be assessed with the overall fire safety plan adapted to include the level of risk and actions taken to minimise it.
Types of fire risk
The majority of workplace fires today are due to faulty electrical appliances. Proactive measures would include good housekeeping, such as having all appliances PAT tested to make sure they are functioning correctly.
Further steps would include ensuring that all computer systems, heating systems, air conditioning or any factory mains or battery-powered equipment are well maintained and serviced. Failure to do so is a risk and can result in action being taken against the care home or employer.
Discarded cigarettes and matches were, previously, often a cause of accidental fires in the UK. Thankfully, the risk has been reduced due to legislation banning it from places of work and areas used by the wider public. Designated smoking areas for smokers are offered in some workplaces but these are generally away from buildings. In some cases organisations, such as hospitals, do not allow smoking anywhere on site.
It is important to note that residential care homes are exempt from the UK smoke-free legislation. Care providers may offer designated indoor smoking rooms and/or bedrooms where residents live on site. Therefore, considerations in any fire safety plan need to include areas where smoking takes place. This includes the safe disposal of cigarette butts and related materials.
Storage of flammable liquids
The risk of fire from flammable liquids or gases can be reduced by correct storage and sensible positioning on site. Flammable liquids should be stored away from potential 'fire hot spots' and locked away when not in use. Ideally, chemicals and fuels would need to be stored in an explosion-proof container away from areas used by the general public.
General housekeeping can help reduce risk. Bins should be of suitable size for the premises and waste should be emptied regularly. Corridors should be kept clear at all times allowing safe escape if needed.
Another hazard could be the building itself. Modern buildings have to follow very strict planning regulations that incorporate fire prevention into the building. Fire-proof doors are installed to limit the spread of fire within the building whilst evacuation routes with relevant signage are considered to ensure a safe escape.
Older buildings can present additional problems. Regardless of the age of the building, risk assessments should take into account modern practices. A plan could include the installation of fireproof walls, advanced alarm systems, sprinkler systems and fireproof doors. Any element has to be considered in order to reduce the risk of fire.
Risk to employees and residents
The fire plan needs to assess the level of risk to all staff and residents on site. Depending on the nature of the workplace, the risk to the employees will vary.
Care homes need to factor in the physical attributes of residents when considering evacuation routes. This includes their age, their ability to move and whether they are disabled. Older people won't be able to respond quickly during an emergency, whilst young children may not understand what is happening when an alarm sounds. In this case, a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) should be drawn up for those who may have difficulties evacuating the building to reach a place of safety without any help or support from others.
Staff and supervisors should be trained regarding the safe evacuation of residents when a fire breaks out. Regular drills and correct safety procedures in an emergency need to be the focus points of any plan. This will include highlighting residents most at risk and formulating specific plans to ensure their safe exit.
The care home is responsible for everyone that resides in it. This includes visitors on-site during the day. Escape plans need to be easily accessible at all times, ideally situated on doors in each and every room.
Action must be taken to follow regulations regarding the safe placement and accessibility of fire safety-related equipment. Fire safety equipment for a care home should include fire extinguishers, fire blankets and fire buckets. Depending upon the size of the care home and activities that take place on-site different kinds of fire extinguishers may also be required.
Fire alarms and signage are required by law in establishments that house patients. Fire safety signs need to be a set size with most being standardised to allow easy identification. Fire alarms need to be tested weekly and maintained at least annually depending on the size of the building.
The designated responsible person on-site needs to diligently plan for every eventuality in a theoretical fire. They need to record any risks and eliminate exposure wherever possible. They are also required to educate all others about their responsibilities in the event of a fire. The process is ongoing with new risks assessed and contingency plans reviewed accordingly.
Documents in the plan will map out evacuation routes, instructions on how employees activate the alarm system, staff responsible for calling the emergency services should something happen, and what to do if the emergency exits are blocked during an evacuation.
Training is vital in the planning and implementation of care home fire safety procedures. All staff should have some basic training relating to on-site risks with the designated responsible person overseeing this.
Flexebee specialises in training that is catered to the care sector. Go to our Fire Safety page for fire-related training courses. To discover more about fire safety in care homes, take a look at our other Care Home Fire Safety blogs: