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Fire Safety in Care Homes and Residential Housing

26th April 2017

Fire safety is something that cannot be overlooked by any business, but becomes of utmost importance when considering full-time residences, especially when the occupants may be elderly or particularly vulnerable.

Recent events have heightened fire safety concerns for many of our care and housing clients including a fire in a block of apartments in Southampton where a number of upper floors were evacuated; a care home fire in Tamworth involving the rescue of twenty five residents; and a care home fire in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire where more than thirty were rescued from the building and two residents tragically losing their lives.

Residential care and housing providers are under increasing pressure to ensure that they are legally compliant with relevant fire safety and housing Regulations, where applicable, by undertaking a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment. A fire risk assessment is essential to keep your premises safe for everyone that uses it, including residents, tenants, employees, contractors and visitors. Your fire risk assessment should be a continuous process and audited or reviewed as changes to your premises are made.

Increased scrutiny of Fire Safety arrangements

As a result of ongoing fires and incidents, fire safety precautions and management within the care and housing sector is constantly being scrutinised, reviewed and improved. Fire authorities have been insisting on undertaking timed evacuations of compartments in care homes to determine whether these are deemed excessive and in accordance with the HM Government Guide to Fire Safety Risk Assessment for Residential Care.

Ensuring premises have adequate evacuation equipment, a suitable number of trained and competent persons and consideration of resident mobility levels within each compartment are essential features of this assessment. There has also been more focus on individual fire risk assessments where residents smoke within the care setting, taking into account fire retardancy of clothing worn by the residents including blankets used to keep warm, use of emollient creams, smoking habits of the individual, previous incidents, use of oxygen, provision of suitable cigarette bins, availability of smoking material, supervision by staff etc.

Person-centered Fire Risk Assessments

The Chief Fire Officers Association has recently drafted “Fire Safety in Specialised Housing” for public comment, which is an important guide to further clarify fire safety responsibilities and requirements within sheltered housing, supported housing and extra care housing. One of the main features of the guide is the concept of person centred fire risk assessments for tenants who reside in the apartment, either under a rental agreement or leasehold agreement with the Landlord. Your fire risk assessment should identify where there are “high risk” or “vulnerable” tenants residing at your premises, for example those tenants who are unable to self evacuate, smoke heavily, suffering from dementia or other mental health condition, hoarders etc.

Information in the person-centred risk assessment should be passed to relevant external agencies, such as the fire and rescue service, who may be able to provide additional support and advice on appropriate prevention strategies to reduce the risk to the individual in the event of a fire within their own accommodation. These may include, for example, single or multiple room water misting systems, ignition resistant bedding, isolation of cooking equipment, a safe smoking strategy and provision of metal bins for safe disposal of cigarettes, a safe cooking strategy and regular monitoring or automatic isolation devices, reduction of combustible materials and additional counselling support for persons with hoarding tendencies, premises information box detailing floor layout plans and personal emergency evacuation plans, liaison with the families or dependents, liaising with other care providers or the local council etc.

Evacuation Strategy

Deciding on the correct evacuation strategy for your premises is an essential part of your fire risk assessment. In residential care homes, the recognised evacuation method is via progressive horizontal evacuation, relying on removing all residents from the affected compartment to a fire safe area. In purpose built blocks of apartments, the recognised strategy primarily involves staying within your apartment, unless affected by the fire, and waiting for the fire service to attend and provide support. Both of these evacuation strategies rely on effective structural fire protection so that the flames and smoke will be contained for a period of time, usually for either 30 or 60 minutes. Where an existing building has been converted into apartments or rooms, there is often confusion as to whether the structural fire protection would allow either of the previously mentioned evacuation strategies to be adopted. It may be the safest option to adopt a total evacuation strategy if the building structure will not afford sufficient protection for occupants of your building.

Capita as your Health & Safety partner

Whatever your situation, our qualified, experienced and competent consultants will be able to conduct a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment in accordance with the relevant Regulations and associated guidance documents to ensure that occupants of your premises remain safe from the effects of fire. If you own or manage care or housing premises on a small or national scale, our consultants are able to offer an effective and consistent approach to fire risk assessment, along with detailed and pragmatic action plans that can help address the fire safety issues raised in this article. If necessary, our consultants can also liaise with your local fire service in relation to any enforcement notices to identify a sensible solution for your business.

To find out more how Capita can provide expert advice and clarify your fire safety responsibilities for your premises, please get in touch.

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