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

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This article looks at the Top 10 Tips for Fire Safety in Care, Residential and Nursing Homes 2020. Fire Risk Consultancy Services have put together these handy tips, considerations and preventative measures that should be undertaken in order to help protect residents and staff from having to deal with a fire. 

Fire safety is something that cannot be overlooked by any business, but becomes of the utmost importance when considering full-time residences, especially when the occupants may be elderly or particularly vulnerable. 

Caring for vulnerable clients isn’t just about making sure they get regular meals and medication. Residents can suffer from a variety of ailments; from impaired mobility to severe neurodegenerative diseases, they can also be bed-bound, hearing or visually impaired and just generally confused or disoriented. Many residents require around the clock care and regular medication. Their home is designed to be a place of safety for the elderly or infirm and any form of emergency can have devastating effects. 

Fire Risk Consultancy Services offer engaging and hands-on fire safety awareness training sessions specifically designed for care homes, that can help your staff feel more confident should an emergency occur. These courses can be bespoke to your premises, ensuring that the training is relevant and up to date.

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Your Fire Risk Assessment

A fire risk assessment plays a fundamental part in any fire safety plan and is a legal requirement so it’s wise to make this one of your first steps.

Fire Risk Consultancy Services can provide a fully-qualified and highly-experienced fire risk assessor so the risk of fire will be correctly identified, minimised and a plan put in place.

We follow a ‘5-step’ approach to Life Safety Fire Risk Assessments as required by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and utilise PAS 79 (a framework for Qualitative Risk Assessment which offers a methodology and structured approach to Fire Risk Assessment for people with knowledge of the principles of fire safety). This ensures that our clients’ premises are adequately assessed for fire risks to life, property and business continuity. A full, detailed and bespoke report is produced and consultation is offered following the fire risk assessment to discuss any significant findings and required actions to achieve a satisfactory standard of fire safety within your premises.

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Fire Doors

Fire doors are a crucial element of any building’s fire safety strategy, compartmentalising premises to prevent the spread of fire and smoke and acting in a similar way to passive protection devices. Regular checks should be made to fire doors to make sure they are fully functioning; including any seals, door closers, glass panes, hinges or intumescent strips. Faulty doors or damages should be repaired efficiently to ensure evacuation routes are protected.

Having good quality fire doors in working order is essential for care homes.  These will slow down or limit the spread of fire, giving staff time to evacuate themselves and the residents. 

Avoid Wedging Fire Doors Open – It may be tempting to prop a door open, for example, if the weather is hot or to ‘keep an eye’ on the residents, but fire doors exist for a reason: to prevent the spread of fire and smoke so the fire is easier to tackle and so that people can evacuate safely.

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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 it goes without saying that 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 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 it’s important that everyone on the premises keeps 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.

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Promote Good Housekeeping

Practice good housekeeping – Clutter contributes to fires by providing fuel and by preventing access to exits and emergency equipment. Ensure that anything that may easily catch fire e.g. flammable and combustible waste materials, including waste paper, cardboard, oily rags or rubbish, is kept to a minimum and does not contribute to a fire.

Laundry Precautions – One of the most hazardous areas located within care homes can often be the laundry area, due to its frequent use, large amounts of fuel, electrical equipment and sources of heat. It is imperative that tumble drier filters are cleaned of lint and that ducting is cleaned periodically to prevent the ignition of these light and fibrous materials. Regular inspections should keep on top of this preventative issue, helping to lower the risk of fire. The cleaning and emptying of tumble dryer filters by laundry staff after each use should be encouraged.

Chemical Safety – Use and store chemicals safely. Read the label and the relevant material safety data sheet to determine flammability and other fire hazards. Provide adequate ventilation when using and storing these substances.  

Smoke only in designated smoking areas – and be sure that smoking materials are always extinguished and disposed of safely, preferably in a metal container. Discourage smoking in, or on any bed. If an individual is insistent on smoking, they should smoke away from their bed and mattress and only when a capable person is with them to offer immediate assistance if required. 

Arson is the cause of 45% of fires – Check the areas outside the building and remove anything that might be tempting to an opportunist arsonist. 

Plant Rooms and Riser Shafts – Plant rooms and riser shafts should frequently be checked to ensure they remain clear of any non-essential items. This is a basic fire safety requirement to guarantee that no additional fuel sources are located in these high-risk areas, and it is not used as an extra storage area. These are not a store cupboard! Regular checks should be made to ensure they are kept clear and locked shut.

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Keep fire routes and exits free from obstructions at all times

They must take people to a place of safety, have clear signs, be free from obstruction and be well lit.

Persons should be familiar with the best and quickest, route out to the location of the assembly point. They can then act swiftly in an emergency without panicking. 

Final exit doors – must be checked every day to make sure that they are unlocked and that there is nothing behind them to hinder an evacuation. 

Keep fire doors shut – Fire doors are in place to stop the spread of fire and keep routes protected, make sure they’re not wedged open. 

Emergency lighting – All emergency routes and exits must be well lit. Include lighting at each door, corridor, change of direction and floor level, staircase, and next to fire-fighting equipment and alarms. Be sure to test emergency lighting regularly.  

Fire safety signs – All fire safety signs should contain pictorial information; the text is supplementary, so anyone can understand them at a glance. Ensure they are well lit and clearly visible so they can be seen in an emergency, even if the power goes out.

Do not re-enter the building until told it is safe to do so, not even to collect belongings.

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Emollient Creams

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 wellbeing of someone who may be likely to be at heightened risk. Provide enough protective bedding to allow items to be washed.

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Oxygen Use

Although the fire risk associated with oxygen use is widely known, our assessors still come across oxygen users who smoke while using oxygen or in a potentially oxygen-enriched environment.

Those who prescribe, or provide, oxygen should be aware that oxygen will significantly increase the combustibility of materials near to an ignition source such as a cigarette, or e-cigarette.

It is the responsibility of the care provider to carry out a risk assessment and consider the associated fire risks. The risk can extend beyond the oxygen user to family members, neighbours or visiting professionals.

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Electronic cigarettes and High-Risk Smokers

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 prior to 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. 

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Train your Employees in Fire Safety and Practise your Fire Drill

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 it is imperative that all employees, both new and old; are re-instructed in your 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, not so well and, make improvements. Tell everyone about the improvements and keep practising 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, and 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 in order 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.

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Consider keeping an Emergency Box or 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 of 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, 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, full advisory service to Articles on Fire Safety Provisions and our Top Fire Safety Tips!