Top 10 Tips for Fire Safety in Care, Residential & Nursing Homes

This article explores the top 10 tips for fire safety in care, residential, and nursing homes in 2024. Fire Risk Consultancy Services has compiled these useful tips, considerations, and preventive measures to protect residents and staff from potential fires.

Fire safety is crucial for any business, but it becomes especially important when dealing with full-time residences, particularly when the occupants are elderly or vulnerable.

Caring for vulnerable clients goes beyond providing regular meals and medication. Residents in care homes may have various conditions, including impaired mobility, severe neurodegenerative diseases, bed-bound status, hearing or visual impairments, confusion, or disorientation. Many residents require round-the-clock care and medication. Their home should be a safe haven for the elderly and infirm, and any emergency situation can have devastating consequences.

Fire Risk Consultancy Services offers engaging and hands-on fire safety awareness training sessions tailored specifically for care homes. These courses boost staff confidence in handling emergencies. The training can be customised to suit your premises, ensuring relevance and up-to-date knowledge.

Now, let’s dive into the top 10 tips for fire safety in care, residential, and nursing homes:

Number 1

Your Fire Risk Assessment

A comprehensive fire risk assessment is a crucial component of any fire safety plan and a legal requirement. It’s wise to prioritise this assessment early on.

Fire Risk Consultancy Services can provide fully qualified and highly experienced fire risk assessors who can accurately identify and minimise fire risks. They follow a ‘5-step’ approach to Life Safety Fire Risk Assessments, as mandated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Utilising the PAS 79 framework, they assess your premises adequately for fire risks to life, property, and business continuity. Following the assessment, you receive a detailed bespoke report, and consultations are offered to discuss significant findings and necessary actions for achieving a satisfactory standard of fire safety.

Number 2

Fire Doors

Fire doors are vital for an effective fire safety strategy, as they compartmentalise buildings, preventing the spread of fire and smoke and making firefighting and safe evacuation easier. Regular checks should be conducted to ensure fire doors are fully functional, including seals, door closers, glass panes, hinges, and intumescent strips. Any faulty doors or damages must be promptly repaired to safeguard evacuation routes.

Having well-maintained fire doors is essential for care homes as they slow down or limit the spread of fire, providing staff with valuable time to evacuate themselves and the residents.

Avoid wedging fire doors open, even in hot weather or to keep an eye on the residents. 

Number 3

Electrical Safety

A significant number of fires in care home premises can be traced back to faulty wiring and electrical equipment. 

Turn off all electrical appliances at the end of the day electrical appliances can easily overheat or malfunction, and become a huge fire hazard in the care home. So, at the end of each day, ensure that all appliances are turned off and help prevent a disastrous situation from happening overnight. 

Don’t overload circuits overloading electrical circuits with more than the recommended capacity can cause the fuse to blow, overheat and become a huge fire hazard. Avoid overloading plug sockets, multi-plug adaptors or extension leads. 

Keep easy access to electrical control panels – if there is an emergency and you need to shut down or isolate a particular machine or area, the last thing you want to be doing is moving obstacles or equipment out of the way before you can even get to the control panel. Always be sure that nothing is stored directly in front of electrical control panels, to allow easy access in case of an emergency, and preferably have them visibly marked to enable swift identification at a moment’s notice. 

Report any electrical faults electrical faults are one of the main causes of office fires, so everyone on the premises must keep a lookout for any potential electrical faults, and immediately draws attention to them. Have all your electrical equipment checked regularly and have a reporting procedure in place for employees to use. Poorly maintained equipment causes fires! 

Air, foam, fluid, or gel-filled mattresses – Keep all ignition sources away from bedding and dynamic airflow mattresses, and don’t use them with electric blankets.

Stay on top of machine maintenance ensure that machines are always properly and regularly checked and maintained, to avoid overheating and friction sparks.

Number 4

Promote Effective Housekeeping for Fire Safety

Maintain a clutter-free environment in care, residential, and nursing homes to minimize fire risks. Clutter serves as fuel for fires and hinders access to exits and emergency equipment. Ensure that flammable and combustible waste materials, including waste paper, cardboard, oily rags, or rubbish, are kept to a minimum to prevent fire incidents.

Ensure Laundry Safety Precautions – The laundry area in care homes can pose significant hazards due to frequent use, abundant fuel, electrical equipment, and heat sources. It is crucial to prioritize safety measures. Regularly clean tumble dryer filters to remove lint, and periodically clean ducting to prevent the ignition of light and fibrous materials. Conduct inspections to proactively address this preventive issue and effectively reduce the risk of fire. Encourage laundry staff to clean and empty tumble dryer filters after each use.

Practice Safe Handling of Chemicals – When using and storing chemicals, prioritize safety to prevent fire hazards. Read labels and relevant material safety data sheets to determine flammability and other associated risks. Ensure adequate ventilation during chemical usage and storage.

Smoke Only in Designated Areas – Smoking should be confined to designated smoking areas within care, residential, and nursing homes. Always extinguish smoking materials and dispose of them safely, preferably in a metal container. Discourage smoking in or near beds. If someone insists on smoking, ensure they do so away from their bed and mattress, and only when accompanied by a capable person who can provide immediate assistance if needed.

Prevent Arson Incidents – Arson is responsible for 45% of fires. To mitigate this risk, regularly inspect the areas surrounding the building and remove anything that could tempt opportunistic arsonists. By eliminating potential fuel sources, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of deliberate fires.

Maintain Plant Rooms and Riser Shafts – Regularly check plant rooms and riser shafts to ensure they are free of non-essential items. These areas should not be used as storage spaces and must remain clear to avoid additional fuel sources. It is essential to uphold this basic fire safety requirement. Conduct routine checks to ensure these areas are kept clear and securely locked.

Number 5

Keep Fire Routes and Exits Clear and Well-Lit

Ensure that fire routes and exits in care, residential, and nursing homes are always free from obstructions. These routes should lead people to safety and have clear signage, unobstructed paths, and adequate lighting. Familiarise residents with the quickest and safest evacuation routes to the assembly point, enabling them to respond swiftly during emergencies without panic.

Regularly Check Final Exit Doors – Perform daily checks on final exit doors to ensure they are unlocked and unobstructed, allowing smooth evacuation. Remove any objects that may hinder the evacuation process.

Maintain Closed Fire Doors – Fire doors are crucial in containing the spread of fire and protecting escape routes. Make sure fire doors are always closed and not wedged open, preserving their effectiveness in emergency situations.

Ensure Adequate Emergency Lighting – Illuminate all emergency routes and exits with proper lighting. Install lighting at doorways, corridors, changes in direction, different floor levels, staircases, and near fire-fighting equipment and alarms. Regularly test emergency lighting to ensure its functionality.

Install Clear and Well-Lit Fire Safety Signs – Fire safety signs should feature easily understandable pictorial information, with text as supplementary information. Ensure these signs are well-lit and clearly visible so that they can be easily identified during emergencies, even if there is a power outage.

Number 6

Emollient Creams and Fire Safety

Emollient creams and paraffin-based creams are frequently used to treat dry skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. These products are safe to use but can soak into clothing, dressings, and bedding leaving a flammable residue, particularly when used in large quantities or when applied to large areas of the body.

If exposed to a naked flame or a heat source, such as a cigarette, lighter, gas cooker, candle, or heater, these saturated fabrics can easily catch fire; the paraffin residue will help the fire develop and spread rapidly which could result in serious injury or death.

The latest research has shown that even low paraffin content creams and some non-paraffin-based emollients can increase the flammability of fabrics.

Fire retardant covers, bedding, or clothing for at-risk smokers must always be considered, particularly if they are confined by immobility. This is the responsibility of any agency owing a duty of care for the health, safety, and well-being of someone who may be likely to be at heightened risk. Provide enough protective bedding to allow items to be washed.

Number 7

Manage Fire Risks Associated with Oxygen Use

Take necessary precautions when using oxygen in care homes. Oxygen significantly increases the combustibility of materials near ignition sources like cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

Conduct a thorough risk assessment to evaluate the fire risks associated with oxygen use, considering the safety of oxygen users, family members, neighbours, and visiting professionals.

Number 8

Address Fire Risks of Electronic Cigarettes

There have been incidents, including a fatal fire in a Derbyshire nursing home, where e-cigarettes were found to have contributed. Not only do they have a charging pack that can overheat, but they also use a heating element to vaporize the liquid content before inhalation. This element is an ignition source and will pose a risk near to oxygen supply. We advise that:

  • e-cigarettes must be treated similarly to standard cigarettes when users are on medical oxygen or in a potentially oxygen-enriched environment
  • e-cigarettes must not be left unattended while on charge and never overnight when householders are asleep
  • products should be purchased from reputable sources
  • owners and operators of residential care homes, sheltered housing complexes, and providers of home care services should highlight the fire risks of e-cigarettes to vulnerable clients or patients.

If you provide services to patients or clients living either in residential care homes or their own properties, you should consider the risk posed by carelessly or accidentally discarded smoking materials, particularly if the person at risk has limited mobility. 

Number 9

Train Employees and Conduct Fire Drills

All staff in the care home should receive fire safety training so they know how to minimise risks and support everyone during an evacuation. Due to the level of risk in care homes, staff should receive specific training related to care homes.

Employee engagement is the best method of continual compliance in any workplace.

Training works – Giving people the right information about fire safety is a legal requirement. It works. Once people understand the potential effects of a fire, they change their behaviour for the better, for good. 

Everyone must know what to do if they discover a fire or hear the fire alarm, what types of warning systems are in place, and evacuation procedures.

Knowing the best course of action in an emergency can help prevent fire emergencies become even more serious, so all employees, both new and old; must be re-instructed in their fire safety procedures as often as possible. 

Do you have the right fire extinguishers in the right places? – To tackle the different types of fire, it’s important to ensure that the workplace has the appropriate type and number of fire extinguishers to account for the size and the company and that everyone in the vicinity knows how to operate them properly, in case of emergency. They should be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. You can check the date of the most recent service by looking at the service label on your extinguishers.

Can people evacuate quickly and effectively? – Practice an evacuation and record what went well, or not so well, and, make improvements. Tell everyone about the improvements and keep practicing until it’s the best it can be. You may also wish to appoint a dedicated fire marshal to oversee the correct observance of every fire drill.

Have your staff received evacuation training specifically for vulnerable residents using specialist equipment? – For example, Evac Chairs, ResQMats, lifts, hoists, etc.

Have you made a FEEP (FIRE EMERGENCY EVACUATION PLAN)? – Required in buildings where people are in residence, a FEEP (Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan) is required for people to understand the fire escape strategy and locate their nearest fire exit.

Make fire drills a regular part of your workplace schedule, at least annually, to ensure all employees know what to do and where to go in an emergency. Carry out a fire drill sooner if any major changes are made to evacuation routes.

Number 10

Maintain an Emergency Grab Bag

An Emergency Grab Bag is recommended and kept in an accessible place to assist in case of a major incident for safe evacuation. The contents of which can range from information and documentation to communication, hygiene, and first-aid equipment. This ensures residents can continue to receive essential care during and after a fire emergency.

Please note that this article provides basic easy-to-understand guidance on fire safety provisions and the key fire safety information required to comply with legislation. Our articles are reviewed regularly. However, any changes made to standards or legislation following the review date will not have been considered. We aim to assist you to understand the fire-related terms within your Fire Risk Assessment.  It does not provide detailed technical guidance on all fire safety provisions, and you might require further advice or need to consult the full standards and legislation.

Fire Risk Consultancy Services have the knowledge and experience to assist your business to comply with all legal requirements surrounding fire safety including legislation. Be sure to read our accompanying guides: Fire Alarm System Types, Fire Extinguishers, Emergency Lighting, Fire Doors, and Fire Safety Signs, also published on this site. 

Please take a moment to have a look around our website where you will find related articles and guides to all the services we can provide your business with, from providing fire risk assessments, fire safety training, advisory services to Articles on Fire Safety Provisions and our Top Fire Safety Tips!