Chris Peters, our Chief Design Manager, takes a two-part look at the special requirements for fire safety in care homes.
We recently supplied to a £7.5 million state-of-the-art care home in Warwick, which is due to open this autumn.
We installed fire-rated screens and doors in this inspirational facility that will provide care for 72 older people and people living with a dementia.
Fire safety in care homes is something that must be taken seriously, because they do happen. Only last Friday, there was a major fire in a care home in Liverpool, which had to be evacuated. Nobody was hurt but it required five fire crews.
Any building’s capacity to withstand fire involves a complex interplay of different elements. These include building design and materials, as well as the suppression and containment systems used to deal with fire if it does break out.
That’s particularly important in buildings housing the most vulnerable, including care homes. With occupants perhaps unable to self-rescue, design, containment and suppression are vital components.
Fire safety in new and altered residential care premises are subject to fire regulations and dealt with under Approved Document B Fire Safety.
Fire precautions in England and Wales fall under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) and the Care Act, which is regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
This applies to residential care homes for both the elderly and infirm, including people with addictions, and children and young persons.
The Order puts the onus for fire safety firmly on the shoulders of the owner/ landlord who is deemed to be the “responsible person.” Similar regulations apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The importance of those regulations was highlighted in 2004 when 14 elderly people died in the Rosepark care home near Glasgow. The subsequent fatal accident inquiry found that “some or all” of the deaths could have been prevented.
A similar tragedy in Southwark in 2009 claimed the lives of six people.
The London Fire Brigade says that 41% of care home fires are down to cooking and cookers. The rest are caused by faulty kitchen appliances or are smoking-related.
The first requirements are the completion of a Fire Risk Assessment and to make an emergency plan. That should include vulnerable people being cared for in their own homes by professional carers, family or friends.
Those plans should be routinely updated because the needs of vulnerable people change over time. The plan should also be practiced on a regular basis.
You might think that, with all that focus on fire safety in care homes, that it would be a safe environment, but there are between 800 and 900 fires each year in the UK in places caring for older people.
Serious fire safety failures were found in care homes across London by London Fire Brigade inspectors during 2018. Nearly 180 care homes were visited in a one-off series of in-depth inspections.
The Brigade’s findings included the following serious fire safety breaches:
- One in three premises with inadequate or poorly maintained fire doors
- Widespread confusion about fire evacuation strategies
- Fire risk assessments being carried out by people without the proper skills and experience
- Roofs being omitted from fire risk assessments (because roof voids often increase the spread and severity of a fire).
Much of the current debate in England and Wales is about sprinkler systems and whether they should be mandatory across all existing and new-build care homes (as they are in Scotland).
However, suppression, while vitally important, is only one part of the equation. The other is containment – ensuring that the fire remains trapped in one area.
This gives staff adequate time to ensure a safe and orderly evacuation, and I’ll be looking at that later in the week in the second half of this article.