care home fire safety
The Rosepark care home after the 2004 fire that led to 14 deaths
Care homes have some pretty unique requirements when it comes to fire safety. By their very nature they’re places where dependent and often very frail individuals live and keeping them safe and secure is paramount. Residential homes often have occupants who, as well as being elderly, very young or needing specialist care, have disabilities which makes fire safety particularly challenging. Learning difficulties or hearing impairments might affect the response to an alarm. Visual or mobility impairments can reduce the ability and speed of escape. The starting point for keeping your residents safe from fire is always carrying out effective fire risk assessments and then continually reviewing those assessments to make sure you’re protecting residents as fully as possible. And one important consideration during that process is checking that you have a fire alarm system that’s fit for purpose. Is your fire alarm system compliant with the latest standards? Having an effective fire alarm system is absolutely vital as a residential home is an environment where evacuation can be complex and literally every second matters. A few years ago new fire safety rules for residential care premises came out as part of the British standard for fire alarms BS5839-1. One of the requirements of the standard related to premises where there are sleeping facilities for more than ten dependent residents and where those residents would need assistance from staff to safely evacuate the building. It stresses the need to avoid delays in summoning the fire and rescue service when the fire alarm system of a reside ntial care premises operates.  The standard also highlights the importance of providing accurate and unambiguous information about the location of a fire too. It states, ‘In residential care premises, facilities should be provided for automatic transmission of alarm signals to an alarm receiving centre.’ It also says, ‘Where occupants of a building are going to need assistance from staff to evacuate the building (e.g. in residential care premises and hospitals), the fire detection and fire alarm system should be addressable if the building has facilities for more than ten people to sleep.’ It’s really important to check that your fire alarm system complies with these requirements.  There may be delays in some systems to allow time to check it’s a real instance of fire but in residential care home settings this shouldn’t be the case. When the fire alarm activates, the fire and rescue services should be summoned immediately. You should also consider the current requirements for visual alarms too. Typically, the audible sounder is the main fire alarm warning mechanism, backed up by visible alarms. But visual alarms are vital in care homes where a proportion of residents may be hard of hearing or completely deaf. If such lights are used as the primary way to warn people of fire, it must be effective in alerting the deaf or hard of hearing to the emergency. So using a combination of audible and visual alarm indicators, such as beacons and strobes, is important but make sure your visual alarm devices comply with EN54 Part 23 which stipulates light level outputs. You must always ask yourself whether the evacuation of everyone can be guaranteed within an acceptable time. If not, a professional risk assessor will be able to advise you about additional ways to ensure the safety of your residents and employees. If you feel you could benefit from some assistance with any aspects of your risk assessment processes or fire alarm system, please do get in touch with us. In addition to fire safety we regularly work within the care sector providing a range of security systems such as CCTV and intruder alarm systems as well as nurse call systems.