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Fire safety failures in over half of care homes audited in new Brigade report

Chris Callow, Head of Policy for Fire Safety Regulation, London Fire Brigade

Serious fire safety failures have been found in care homes across London by Brigade inspectors. There were 177 care homes visited to gauge the level of fire risk across the capital in a one-off series of in-depth inspections.  Following our findings, we’re calling on care home managers  to work closely with their fire risk assessor, understand how fire can travel and develop, and make sure their   emergency plans and staff preparations are robust.

Background:

A number of fires in 2017/18 raised concerns that fire safety in care homes may need review. One such incident in 2017, was in a Cheshunt care home where sadly two people died, after a fire travelled through voids in the roof, which allowed it to quickly engulf the entire building. Crews from Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue and London Fire Brigade found residents in many rooms, many too frail too move themselves to safety. Miraculously, 33 residents were rescued.

The Brigade’s audit in late 2018 found 57% of the London care homes inspected received a formal notification to address fire safety  issues. It’s likely that these issues are the tip of the iceberg. Care home owners need to urgently review their fire risk assessments and ensure their staff know how to safely evacuate their residents, especially those who are immobile.

We’re sharing our findings so that care homes take note of the findings, and lessons are learnt to save lives.

  1. Fire Risk Assessments

Many fire risk assessments  were found to have been carried out by in-house managers and demonstrated a lack of understanding about some fire safety principles.

Our concern is that some care home operators, which have complex fire safety challenges (e.g. progressive horizontal evacuation), do not understand the need for their Fire Risk Assessment to be carried out by an assessor that is competent and experienced in these fire safety challenges.

Guidance on selecting competent Fire Risk Assessors can be downloaded from:  https://www.london-fire.gov.uk/safety/the-workplace/fire-risk-assessments-your-responsibilities/

  1. Emergency Plan and staffing levels

There was widespread confusion about staffing levels, actions and responsibilities amongst managers and staff .

There was also evidence that management underestimated the importance of sufficient staffing levels, particularly during night shifts, to carry out a safe evacuation.

The emergency plan must take full account of the location of immobile residents, and detailed methods of carrying out evacuation of residents in a planned and managed way. The emergency plan should also document the minimum staffing levels and responsibilities that are required to carry out the evacuation.

  1. Training for staff

Fire safety training was found to be ‘online’ only in some cases, rather than in-house practical training where evacuation drills may be included.

The use of equipment to assist in evacuation (evacuation chairs/blankets/skids) was still misunderstood in some of the care homes visited. Where provided, all staff should be fully aware of how to use these in an emergency and more practical training and drills will provide staff with the necessary skills.

  1. Fire doors

One in three premises with inadequate or poorly maintained fire doors. Common failures associated with fire doors were excessive gaps around doors, missing or broken door self-closing devices and warped doors that are not closing properly in their respective door frame. A number of premises also had fire doors that have had their fire resistance compromised by large vents being inserted in the door (e.g. boiler rooms, laundry rooms).

Conclusions

We’re calling for owners, managers and operators to urgently improve fire safety protection and management to ensure the safety of residents and staff in case of fire.

 

Further guidance in the national guidance is available from Fire Safety Risk Assessment – Residential Care Premises: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fire-safety-risk-assessment-residential-care-premises.

 

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