400_800_fit_0_care-homes_6201463592With the International Day of Older Persons taking place at the start of October, it’s an ideal time to reflect on whether we’re doing everything we can to keep older people as safe as possible from the risk of fire. The Home Office recently released the latest (2014/15) fire statistics for England. They reveal some encouraging trends such as the reduction in the number of incidents attended by fire and rescue services since 2003/4. But there are other statistics that should be giving us food for thought including the vulnerability of the elderly when it comes to fire safety. For every million people in England there were 4.8 fire-related fatalities. But that rate increased to 7.9 fatalities for the 65 - 79 years age group. For those 80 years and over it was a rate of 17.8 fatalities per million. 41% of all fatalities in fires in England were from the age group 65 years old and over. An increased likelihood of mental, physical, visual or hearing impairments can mean older people are less able to respond quickly in a fire emergency. So it’s vital we think about ways to keep elderly people safe in their own homes and it’s also essential to consider their safety in other settings too. There are plenty of businesses who need to consider whether an elderly person could have specific needs in the context of fire safety at their particular premises.  The requirement is very evident in a place like a care home but a substantial number of older people will be visitors, guests, customers, volunteers and employees in many different types of premises and they must also be protected from the risk of fire. In a business context, considering the specific needs of older people must form an essential part of your fire risk assessment. But even in the home you can adopt a similar approach. Whether at home or in a business, the idea’s the same; you must identify potential fire risks then put steps in place to reduce or prevent those risks. What are the potential hazards and how can you reduce them? This will of course vary from business to business but remember to examine all the hazards in the context of how they could impact on the safety of an older person. With so many fires taking place at night in the home environment, you could assist an older person by establishing a night time routine checklist. It could include things like switching off and unplugging all electrical appliances if they aren’t in use and checking smoking materials are properly extinguished. It could also be used as a reminder to close all doors. Be observant of other hazards too like overloaded plug sockets, wires trapped under carpets and damaged leads or appliances (including electric blankets). If a fire did break out, what methods of fire detection are there? You may need to consider using alarms that have specific features designed with the elderly in mind and have, for example, louder alarms than usual or a strobe light that alerts the hard of hearing. And maintain and test them regularly. While not subject to the fire safety legislation a business must comply with, this still applies in the home too. Vacuum and wipe the casing to prevent a build-up of dust and test batteries regularly. Protection, suppression and evacuation In a business, think about installing fire doors and other forms of passive fire protection. And make sure appropriate fire fighting equipment’s available such as fire extinguishers. You must have an evacuation plan too. Conduct regular drills to make sure everyone’s able to deal with a fire emergency. Factor in the lack of mobility that may be an issue in some instances.  Identify who might need assistance and ensure there’s someone designated and trained to help if so. Ensure escape routes are unblocked and that lighting and signage is sufficient to help everyone, including the visually impaired, to find their way along the route. In some locations, such as care homes, it may not be possible to get every resident out in time so make sure your risk assessment considers the need for refuge areas where people can be protected from danger until the emergency services arrive. At home make sure a telephone’s readily available (ideally have one in the bedroom) so the older person can call for help. Depending on the vulnerability of the older person, it might be worth providing emergency numbers too. Again, make sure escape routes are as clear as possible and check that keys are available for windows and doors. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to keeping elderly people safe from fire. Many will be independent for years and no specific additional considerations will be necessary. But there will be others who need more help. If you’re concerned about the fire safety of an elderly relative or friend, remember you can ask your local fire and rescue service for assistance. They offer free home fire safety checks and these can be an incredibly helpful way of identifying any risks as well as offering plenty of advice about safe behaviours. In some instances they may also be able to install free smoke alarms too. Alternatively, if you need some support with protecting older people from the risks of fire in your business, do get in touch with us for further guidance.