Care Guides > Fire Safety in Care Homes: Regulation, Prevention & What to Do

Fire Safety in Care Homes: Regulation, Prevention & What to Do

In environments like care homes, it’s extremely important to have the right regulations in place when it comes to things like fire safety.

Not only are elderly people more vulnerable in general, but they may also have health conditions that make it difficult to move quickly in the event of an emergency.

In this article, Lottie investigates fire safety in care homes, giving you all the information you need to know about fire safety regulations, prevention and how care home staff should handle emergency events.

The Importance of Fire Safety

When a fire starts in a building, it can happen very quickly. If the building is old, it may be made from materials that catch fire and spread fire more easily.

Fires can also spread very quickly through roof voids if they are not properly compartmentalised.

In the worst situations, fires can lead to loss of life, health complications and property damage, which is why fire safety is so important, even in smaller buildings with fewer people in them.

Having good fire safety procedures in place ensures that everyone leaves the building safely and calmly and in the quickest time possible. Without a procedure, people are likely to run in all directions, shouting and causing panic - not ideal in a dangerous situation.

Fire safety is even more important in establishments like care homes, where there may be lots of people in the building who are hard of hearing, have impaired vision or are unable to walk. The situation is even more dangerous at night time, when the majority of residents are likely to be in their bedrooms, relaxing or sleeping.

By not having a fire safety procedure, you are risking lives, specifically the lives of vulnerable and elderly people. Fire safety is also a law in the Fire Safety Order and the Care Home Regulations Act respectively, which is regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). If care home providers fail to meet these legal obligations, they can go to prison and face a hefty fine.

The legal framework for fire safety in UK care homes is based on two laws. Read on to learn more about each law.

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The Care Home Regulations Act (2001)

The Care Home Regulations Act of 2001 sets out fire safety regulations for care homes, including how care homes should approach fire safety and how complaints about fire safety in a care home are handled. This Act was amended in 2003.

Care home manager and care home facility owners need to look at several key responsibilities they have towards care home residents under the Act, including:

  • Consulting fire authorities for advice on the best fire safety strategy for their care facility
  • Ensuring all the necessary precautions are in place to reduce the risk of a fire
  • To put policies in place that allow for quick fire detection, containment and extinguishment
  • Ensuring that fire safety equipment is regularly checked and maintained
  • Appointing a properly trained fire marshall for the care home
  • Ensuring that all staff are trained on how to react in the event of a fire
  • Organising regular fire drills and evacuation practice
  • Keeping an up to date fire safety log, with details of all training, emergency evacuation practices and incidents in the home

The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (2005)

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order of 2005 is a broad legislation that covers fire safety in care homes, including how to carry out fire assessments, how to detect fires, how to reduce the risk of a fire and staff training.

The Order also gives details about who is responsible for fire safety in a care home - including registered managers, risk assessors and fire alarm technicians.

However, as their employer, the care provider is the main responsible party for anything to do with fire safety in a care home. Local fire services should carry out regular inspections in accordance with the Order, as part of a routine check and after a fire.

Local fire authorities have a right to regularly inspect care homes to ensure that they fully comply with the regulations laid out in these laws. If a care home is found to breach any of these regulations, it may be given a fine or those held accountable might even be imprisoned, as well as having their licence to operate a care home removed.

Government Fire Safety Guidance Document

There is plenty of fire safety guidance available from numerous different sources. For example, the UK government’s fire safety guidance can be found in a 150-page document that outlines fire safety strategies for care homes in line with the National Fire Safety Standards.

Government guidance is supported by guidance from the National Association for Safety and Health in Care Services (NASHiCS), in association with the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) and the London Fire Brigade has also added its findings from a review of 177 care homes.

Worryingly, over half those inspections identified failings serious enough to warrant a formal notification by the Brigade.

What you’ll find in the guide:

  • Instructions on how to carry out a proper fire risk assessment
  • How to implement precautions based on the results of an assessment
  • Guidance on ensuring the safety of residents and workers in the event of a fire
  • Guidance on staff fire training
  • The safety requirements to check for when acquiring fire protection equipment
  • How to properly install fire protection gear, including extinguishers

Fire Risk Assessment

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All fire safety starts with a fire risk assessment and every single care home is required to have a detailed and up to date assessment. Fire risk assessments essentially summarise all the potential fire safety risks in a building and the measures that building has in place to prevent or deal with a fire, as well as highlighting areas for improvement.

Fire risk assessments do not necessarily need to be carried out by an expert, but professional assistance is advised to ensure that every single fire risk is identified and a plan put in place that takes them into account. Guidance on fire risk assessments can be found from lots of sources, including the government website.

An example blueprint of a fire risk assessment is:

  • Identifying potential fire hazards
  • Determining who in the care home is most at risk in the case of a fire; for example, who the most vulnerable residents are
  • Deciding which fire precautions are necessary
  • Recording the results of the risk assessment
  • Reviewing and updating fire safety protocols regularly in line with previous risk assessments

Fire Safety Responsibilities and Compliance

The person in charge of making sure that a care home complies with fire safety regulations is known as the ‘Responsible Person’. The Responsible Person in a care home may be the owner of the care facility, the main employer, or the home manager.

The Responsible Person has the following duties:

  • Taking precautions to ensure the safety of all care home residents and staff
  • Appointing a fire warden to manage fire safety and making sure all residents and staff know who to follow
  • Checking for hazardous materials that can lead to a fire in the care home and removing any that are dangerous
  • Storing and using hazardous or flammable substances properly and responsibly
  • Ensuring the care home has regular fire assessments, fire drills and fire equipment checks
  • Fitting the facility with fire detection and firefighting equipment
  • Arranging staff and resident fire safety training

Fire Alarm Systems

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There are several different types of fire equipment; the main one being fire alarms. Fire alarms, or fire detection equipment, warns of a fire immediately through loud noises and lights. For care home residents with audio or visual impairments, special alarms can be installed.

Care homes should install appropriate fire detection and suppression systems, or fire sprinklers, then create a chart divided into zones by each alarm so that staff and firefighters can easily see which alarm has been activated in a fire. Fire alarm systems must be regularly checked and maintained to ensure all is in good working order.

Government guidance recommends that each of these zones or compartments should be capable of evacuation in two and a half minutes.

Fire Extinguishers

Care homes are also required to have firefighting equipment like fire hoses and fire extinguishers. Residents and staff should be trained to use this equipment so that they can curb the spread of a fire while waiting for firefighters to arrive.

Fire extinguishers and fire hoses need to meet recommended quality assurance standards and should be placed strategically throughout the facility for easy access. They should also be regularly monitored and checked for damage or age.

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Fire Doors

Having good quality fire doors is essential for fire safety in care homes. Fire doors function to slow down or limit the spread of fire, which gives staff plenty of time to evacuate everyone in the home, including the residents.

Fire doors come under what is known as ‘horizontal evacuation’ and can be connected to a fire alarm, closing automatically once the alarm goes off. All fire doors in a care home should be tested regularly to make sure they are working properly.

Fire doors need to close properly, shutting squarely against the door stop. Doors should be checked every month or so for wear and tear and repairs arranged as needed. Any inspections will then be recorded in the care home’s log book.

What to Do in the Event of a Fire

In the event of a fire, there are typically two types of evacuation procedure to follow: simultaneous evacuation and horizontal evacuation.

  • Simultaneous evacuation refers to everyone leaving the building immediately upon hearing a fire alarm, while horizontal evacuation refers to assistance for residents who may not be as mobile or able to evacuate themselves.
  • In horizontal evacuation, if a fire starts in the building, groups of residents are moved gradually from room to room ahead of the fire, giving staff enough time to reach all residents.

If a fire alarm goes off, staff and residents should know to locate and follow the fire marshall’s instructions to leave the building in the quickest and most efficient manner possible.

Evacuation Training

All care home staff are required to have evacuation training so that they know exactly what to do in the event of a fire. There should also be nominated fire marshalls that are known to everyone so that residents and staff know who to look for and follow.

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Depending on what type of care home it is, there may be horizontal evaluation training for staff; for example, in a nursing home where there may be larger numbers of bedridden residents.

Staff may also be given training on how to use evacuation aids, including evacuation chairs or mattresses. These aids help residents who cannot stand or walk unaided to be safely evacuated. All evacuation training should be logged in the care home’s fire safety log, for easy reference.

Escape Routes: Planning and Safety

All care homes must have clearly laid out escape routes for fire safety and staff and residents should be taken through evacuation drills to test how efficient these routes are.

Fire escape routes and exits should be free from obstruction at all times, with functional fire safety signs and emergency lighting along all routes.

Safety Considerations

Some of the fire safety precautions care homes can take with regards to are ensuring that the home has a simple layout, that the home is kept clean, tidy and free of clutter and that everyone in the home has been given training on fire safety regulations and guidelines.

Buildings that have confusing fire safety routes and objects or furniture causing obstruction can result in dangerous situations.

Fire Risks and Prevention

The most common causes of fires in residential care homes are electrical equipment, including cookers and kitchen appliances and incidents that are smoking-related.

In addition to this, out of date fire safety plans, lack of practice in fire drills and inadequate staff levels can also pose a serious risk in the event of a fire.

Cooking

Lots of fires start in the kitchen, often due to kitchen appliances or cookers. All cooking equipment in a care home should be well-maintained and regularly checked for fire hazards and should not be kept next to flammable materials. Any members of staff that use the kitchen must have been given fire safety training to help them spot potential dangers.

Electrical Equipment

Similarly, electrical equipment can pose a fire risk if it is damaged, old or faulty. All electrical equipment in a care home should be regularly checked for wear and tear or hazards, particularly equipment in residents’ bedrooms.

Mobility Scooters

Perhaps a surprising item on this list is a mobility scooter. As well as causing obstructions on fire escape routes, mobility scooters actually present their own fire risk, often while charging. If mobility scooters catch fire, they also release smoke and heat which can increase the spread of the fire. Fire risk professionals or the fire brigade can give you useful advice on how to safely store mobility scooters to prevent the risk of fire.

Smoking

An unattended cigarette butt in an ashtray, or a cigarette flicked to the floor without being put out can pose serious fire risks in a care home. To prevent cigarettes from causing a fire, care homes need to consider the following:

  • Preventing smoking in bedrooms
  • Allowing residents to smoke only under supervision
  • Encouraging smokers to quit smoking or switch to vapes (e-cigarettes), which are safer

Specific guidance on the risks posed by mobility scooters, smokers and other risks is available from NASHiCS, CFOA, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and local Fire Services.

Fire Safety Tips

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To prevent dangerous situations in a fire, care homes must ensure that their fire safety policies are kept up to date and personalised. Elderly and vulnerable people’s needs can change over time, meaning that plans might no longer best fit emergency situations.

Staff fire safety training needs to be conducted regularly, making sure that any new members of staff receive immediate training. Staff should schedule regular fire drills and evacuation practice so that all members of staff know how to act confidently and calmly if a fire starts.

Finally, staff rotas must be clear and up to date - and there should always be sufficient staff levels at all times in case an emergency occurs.

Care Quality Commission

The CQC, or Care Quality Commission, has started to take an increasing interest in fire safety in recent years. In fact, care homes that have failed to comply with Fire Service recommendations will find that their CQC rating will be affected as a result, with some care homes being rated inadequate or even having their CQC registration removed altogether.

As well as general home inspections, the CQC also now assesses fire safety and how this is managed on a day to day basis.

We hope this article has shed some light on fire safety in care homes, giving you an idea of all the different sorts of regulations that should be present in a care facility. An effective fire safety strategy is vital in care homes.

If you have any questions about care home fire safety, or care homes in general, why not get in touch? A friendly Lottie representative will be glad to answer your questions and give you reassurance if you’re starting out on your care home search.

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