There are now more people in the UK over the age of 60 than there are under 18. With an ever-growing ageing population, fire safety for older people has never been more important.
In a 2014/15 government report, it was found that 41% of all fatalities from fires in England were people aged 65 and over. This makes the elderly 10 times more likely to die in a fire than younger people.
There are many factors which contribute to older people being at greater risk from fire. As we age, our senses can start to deteriorate, which can affect awareness if there’s a fire. If your hearing is affected, you may not hear the alarm. If your sense of smell is impaired, smoke can go unnoticed.
Some of the most vulnerable people can have a slower reaction time to events such as a fire. Conditions such as dementia will cause confusion and forgetfulness, leading to ovens not being turned off, or cigarettes not being properly extinguished.
Impaired movement will hinder escape, and for someone who is bedridden, evacuation is difficult.
What does the law say?
Care home owners and managers need to be aware of the Fire Safety Order (FSO); the current law in England and Wales. The FSO nominates one individual as the ‘Responsible Person’ for a building — generally deemed to be the owner, occupier or employer. The ‘Responsible Person’ has a duty to fulfil the requirements of the FSO.
Those requirements all stem from having a suitable fire risk assessment. The care home manager will need to prove that they have reduced fire risk as far as is reasonably practical and show that they have taken precautions to protect residents and employees.
Providing adequate training to care home staff on how to identify and report fire risks will give the owner or manager the power to reduce and remove those risks. Training should start as part of an induction, with regular updates from then on.
- Ensure that the fire risk assessment is kept as a live document and regularly updated.
- Regular checks of the building need to be made, e.g. that fire doors are still closing properly and evacuation routes are clear of obstacles.
- Spread out fire training throughout the year and keep an online diary of fire safety training with a sign-off for employees.
- Make sure that everyone who comes into contact with the building is also trained in fire risks including agency staff, builders, cleaners and gardeners. They also need to understand the importance of keeping a fire door closed and not wedged open.
There should be a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) in place for each individual resident, detailing their needs and requirements. It can be useful to set the fire alarm off and record each resident’s response and reaction to it. In some cases, a loud continuous noise can provoke unexpected reactions including violent outbursts or even seizures. All staff should have access to, and be made aware of, these PEEPs.
Employees also need to have faith that fire doors will actually resist fire for 30 minutes. In the event of a fire, they will have the hard task of going around and informing the residents. Faith in the doors can help instil a sense of calm.
Common fire hazards in care homes
In general, care homes for the elderly are at greater risk of fire. In September 2015, the London Fire Brigade stated that it was dealing with over 10 fires a week in care homes and sheltered accommodation alone. One of the main hazards they found was fire doors wedged open.
Doors are one of the most important fire safety features in a building and also, sadly, the most commonly abused. Research carried out by Fireco found that 64% of premises visited by the fire service had fire doors wedged open. A practice that can prove devastating as the case of the Rosepark Nursing Home in South Lanarkshire showed.
A fire broke out at Rosepark in a cupboard in 2004 and ripped through the building. The Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) conclusion for this case listed a catalogue of precautions that could have prevented the fire becoming so destructive.
One of these precautions was for all bedroom doors to have door closers and smoke seals fitted. Simply put, the loss of life would have been significantly reduced had the bedroom doors been closed. The Fireco product Dorgard was actually quoted in the trial as a solution.
Wedging open a fire door is a serious risk to people and buildings, as it allows fire and smoke to spread. With this in mind, the importance of fire doors becomes clear. But they can be heavy. They cause injuries for the less able-bodied and trap people in their rooms. They can make it difficult to move around. Fire doors can be obstructive, so it’s easy to see why people wedge them open.
Installing a free-swing door closer, such as Freedor, on each bedroom door will allow care home residents to safely keep their bedroom doors open, but the door will automatically shut when the fire alarm sounds. Freedor also takes all weight out of the door, meaning it can be opened with minimal effort.
Reducing the risk
Care homes represent one of the most high-risk establishments when it comes to fire safety. The strategies for these buildings are therefore more complex than others.
What simple checks can you make? Making sure exits are clear, fire doors aren’t wedged open, and evacuation plans and risk assessments are up to date. These help provide a safer environment — one that can save lives.
What other things can you look out for?
Everyday products can turn into lethal materials if they come into contact with the heat of a fire, so something as simple as keeping areas tidy can help reduce that risk and keep people safe.
Just simply dropping a cigarette can prove fatal, as seen at the blaze at a Brentford care home last year. Use smoking risk assessments for all smokers.
Wedging open fire doors
There are more beneficial uses for a fire extinguisher and a door stop isn’t one of them! Fire is fast, and in seconds this wedged open fire door will allow a fire to spread rapidly through the building.
Fireco makes compliance easy with simple solutions for difficult fire safety problems; making care homes safer, more accessible and ensuring compliance is one less thing to worry about.
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