fire safety in healthcare

Hospitals and all other providers within the healthcare sector are used to working in challenging and difficult circumstances. But they have found themselves dealing with a whole new level of pressure this year.

Yet the fact remains that fire presents a risk that must never be overlooked, no matter what else is going on. Just this month, part of King’s College Hospital in London had to be evacuated when a fire broke out in its Dental Institute. Approximately 400 patients and 80 staff had to be evacuated from seven floors. It’s believed to have started in the roof of the building’s first floor. Fortunately there were no reports of any injuries. A large accidental fire at a mental health hospital in Raglan, Monmouthshire during April resulted in part of a two-storey building collapsing. Many of the patients’ possessions were lost in the fire. In October, firefighters were called to the Royal Cornwall Hospital to extinguish a blaze in a ward side room, with patients being evacuated into other parts of the hospital.

Other healthcare settings are equally vulnerable

Of course, it’s not just hospitals that are vulnerable to fire. In early 2019 a village in Surry had its local GPs’ surgery completely destroyed by a fire caused by an electrical fault. The practice had to be completely rebuilt. It finally reopened in November of the same year, but not before a great deal of disruption had been experienced by those who relied on its healthcare services. More recently, a surgery and pharmacy in South Essex had to move services into portacabins and other medical practices after a blaze in September caused considerable smoke damage along with structural damage to the area where the fire broke out.

Staying alert to ever-shifting risks

The need to stay on top of fire safety in healthcare environments is paramount. Several of the fires mentioned above resulted in the need for emergency evacuation, which clearly poses additional complexities given the need to evacuate patients or residents who might have mobility impairments or be dependent. The need to keep the fire assessment process dynamic, continually recognising changes in risk levels and responding accordingly, is more critical than ever to reduce the risk as far as possible that outbreaks of fire do not occur.

For example, one of the particular risks at the moment comes from higher than usual levels of redeployment of staff and agency workers. Also factor in the creation of field hospitals and this means a proportion of staff are likely to be working in environments that are different to the ones they are more used to. While all staff will have received inductions, the reduced degree of familiarity will invariably increase the level of risk.

Specific fire risks must always be taken into account when utilising new equipment, or significantly increasing the use of existing equipment too. At the start of the pandemic, fire safety concerns were highlighted over the combustion risk created by the growing use of ventilators and associated raised oxygen levels in the air. While it’s subsequently been discovered that outcomes are generally better if people go to hospital sooner and are given less invasive respiratory support, ventilators do continue to be needed in some cases and could create a hazard.

Maintain a continual fire risk assessment mindset

In environments that are under such extreme pressure, it’s understandable that fire safety will not be uppermost in people’s minds. But it is so important that it’s given the focus needed to avert major problems. Hospitals and all other parts of the healthcare sector are stretched like never before and cannot find themselves in a situation where they must cope with all of the disruption, damage and harm that a fire could cause.

It’s critical to remain alert to the shifts in fire risk with a continual risk assessment process and mindset. This must be coupled with having the systems and correctly maintained equipment in place to quickly detect fire, then rapidly contain it and extinguish it without putting staff, patients or visitors at risk. An investment of time now could save a great deal of disruption and distress further down the line.

If you require support with keeping risk assessments up to date, or need guidance about fire detection or fire fighting equipment, please do contact us.