In nursing homes, fire safety and escape planning are particularly important. Nursing homes continue to host vulnerable people, as those who are living longer face more and greater health problems. Read this article to learn about fire safety in nursing homes and what action to take in the event of a fire.
When it comes to the care of vulnerable adults, care goes beyond food and comfort. There must be careful consideration of their safety, along with the safety of the premises to prevent emergencies.
In nursing homes, reducing the risk of and from fire is fundamental in managing your facilities and protecting those who are cared for. The need for suitable, well-planned and practiced fire emergency procedures is essential, as evacuating elderly residents from nursing homes comes with added difficulties. This is because these residents are older, more vulnerable, and highly dependent or reliant on the aid of someone else.
Tragically, fires can cause devastation and many fatalities in nursing homes, making fire safety in nursing homes more important than ever. With better fire safety knowledge and effective planning, these numbers can be reduced.
That’s why Government fire safety regulations for residential homes provide the basis to create and implement efficient fire safety plans to help both staff and residents stay safe.
If you want to learn about the regulations surrounding fire safety in nursing homes, take a look at our frequently asked questions.
FAQs surrounding fire safety in nursing homes
- What is the law regarding fire safety in nursing homes?
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 outlines UK law regarding fire safety in nursing homes.
- What do the regulations require for fire safety in nursing homes?
- Under the legislation, nursing homes must have adequate fire precautions – including escape routes, appropriate warning and detection systems and sufficient firefighting equipment.
- Who is responsible for meeting the regulations?
- Under legislation, anyone who has control of the premises can be seen as the person responsible for meeting regulation guidelines. You may choose to appoint a “Responsible Person” – however, they must be competent and have relevant training and knowledge of fire safety.
- How do I meet the requirements of the law?
- It is the job of the “Responsible Person” to complete a fire risk assessment that identifies any potential risks and hazards. The risk assessment should also include those people most at risk, e.g. immobile residents or residents with sight/hearing difficulties.
Any potential risks of fire must be reduced or eliminated wherever possible, and appropriate firefighting equipment must be made available across the premises. An emergency plan must be developed that covers what to do in the event of a fire. Keep a record of this plan and make sure you review it regularly.
- What are the main causes of fire in nursing homes?
- In residential homes, 45% of fires are a result of cooking and cookers, 15% are due to kitchen appliances and 12% are smoking-related.
- How do you provide appropriate care?
Improving your fire safety precautions begins with identifying where things can go wrong and the potential fire hazards on your premises. Plans must be regularly updated so that they continue to be suitable and don’t become outdated. For example, a vulnerable person’s needs may change, or building work to the premises could affect escape routes.
Carrying out practice runs of your emergency plan will also help to prepare staff in the event of an emergency.
Fire safety in nursing homes in more detail
Fire safety in nursing homes comes with added difficulties because of the vulnerable residents concerned. It is your responsibility, as a professional carer, to ensure the safety of the people you support as well as staff members.
By updating your fire safety knowledge and managing fire safety efficiently, you are much more likely to reduce the chance of a fire occurring. On the other hand, if a fire does break out, the chances of it being controlled or contained quickly and effectively increase.
However, knowledge should not stop with just you. Fire safety knowledge and fire emergency plans must be well-communicated to all employees, while it is also necessary to provide relevant training.
Preparing and training staff for a fire emergency
Employees of the nursing home must be made aware of their duty of care required when it comes to fire safety measures. Staff should be trained and confident in preventing or limiting the risk of fire, recognising any fire hazards and responding to fire emergencies.
In the event of a fire, employees must also be capable of safely handling and using firefighting equipment and any evacuation aids. Inform staff how to raise fire alarms as well as how to contact emergency services.
Following induction training, employees should continually be made aware of and provided with adequate fire safety training. Regular training and refresher sessions should continue to keep knowledge up to date, making staff familiar with fire safety procedures. Carrying out practice fire drills will prepare employees on how to handle fire emergencies and give them practical experience when it comes to assisting residents and using equipment.
Training should be relatively frequent in nursing homes due to the vulnerability of residents.
Good housekeeping reduces fire hazards
For all nursing homes, good housekeeping will reduce the chances of a fire occurring. As it is likely that your nursing home generates a high quantity of combustible waste material, your day-to-day activities should include managing this effectively.
Start by keeping waste materials in suitable containers before they are removed from the premises – do not allow this waste to accumulate inside. Secure outdoor bins to prevent them from being moved closer to the building where they could set on fire.
Good housekeeping also includes storing substances such as aerosol sprays, medical gases and medications appropriately so as not to cause an incident. Ideally, lock away any flammable liquids and gases in fire-resistant enclosures. Try reducing the quantity of dangerous substances to the smallest reasonable amount for your nursing home.
When stacking linen, paper, packaging and other materials, make sure you stack them in an orderly fashion and out of the way so that they do not obstruct escape routes.
Be aware of the dangers that large appliances such as washing machines, tumble dryers and cookers can have on fire safety. Do not load washing and drying machines in excess of their manufacturer’s recommendations. Carry out regular maintenance to keep these machines in check. For catering facilities, no cooking should be left unattended, while equipment should be safely stored so as not to cause obstruction.
When it comes to kitchen maintenance, thoroughly clean down equipment and surfaces to avoid build-up of grease and fats that can cause a fire. Any extractor ducting and filters should be regularly cleaned and maintained to avoid congestion that could lead to a fire.
Consider using fire-retardant materials where possible – for example, with wheelchairs – and choose suppliers who can evidence that their materials are fire-retardant. Provide adequate space for large equipment and furniture and look out for a potential source of ignition.
In the event of a fire, evacuation is always a likely possibility. In nursing homes, quick and safe evacuation processes must be implemented should a fire occur. Evacuation plans need to be detailed and communicated effectively so that staff are prepared if a dangerous situation arises.
It is likely that the nursing home will include vulnerable residents who require assistance when evacuating or would be otherwise unable to escape. This can be due to a number of factors, such as vision or hearing impairments and reduced or lack of mobility. Therefore, evacuation aids e.g. evacuation chairs, may be necessary in order for staff to assist these at-risk residents.
Staff must be trained in how to use this equipment safely so that residents can be securely evacuated. Staff should also be informed of appropriate evacuation methods – for example, horizontal evacuation processes – that move vulnerable residents from room to room ahead of the fire.
Fire detection and warning
When it comes to fire safety in nursing homes, fire detection and warning systems are vital. Fire alarms should be installed throughout the premises, and care homes are required to fit L1 fire alarm systems. Residents’ dwellings must also be fitted with an alarm which allows the residents to alert a nurse in the case of emergency.
Fire doors provide nursing homes with the best chances of preventing the spread of fire and allowing for the safe evacuation of vulnerable patients. Fire doors should be closed properly at all times and be clear of any obstruction to allow for escape.
Situating fire extinguishers appropriately throughout the nursing home allows for them to be accessed when needed. Different types of fire extinguisher cover different types of fire, so you may want to consider this depending on your nursing home.
Sprinkler systems are highly recommended systems for preventing fires from spreading. Not only do these systems detect fires, they also suppress them and raise fire alarms. Installing sprinkler systems to the nursing home can stop the devastation of fire and help in your fire safety emergency planning.
All fire alarms, fire doors, fire extinguishers and all other mandatory and optional firefighting equipment must be regularly tested.
Common fires risks in nursing homes
As you know, fires can start from a whole range of risks and hazards, but some are more common than others. Smoking and incorrectly disposing of smoking materials, placing electrical items near flammable materials and leaving fire doors open are all common fire risks in nursing homes.
Smoking on-site by staff should be discouraged; instead, provide a suitable smoking area away from the building and provide appropriate disposal methods. If smoking is permitted for residents, have strict controls in place so that they can only smoke with supervision.
Regularly test and check electrical appliances to look for faults that could lead to fire. Stick to the “one plug, one socket” rule – you don’t want to overload sockets. If the use of extension leads is necessary, then keep leads out of the way to avoid damage and exposure.
Remember to switch off appliances after they have been used and store them away as soon as possible. Never unnecessarily leave sockets on overnight.
Impact of staffing issues
Another common fire risk in nursing homes arises from staffing issues. During night shifts, fire safety can be reduced due to lower staffing levels. This situation may compromise your fire emergency plans, so alternatives must be put into place.
Be prepared for winter months
For some of us, tackling winter is as easy as throwing on extra layers and retrieving our coats from the back of the wardrobe. However, with temperatures plummeting and gloomy skies, winter can expose elderly people to dangerous risks.
Freezing temperatures can often lead to a number of health issues with elderly people – such as colds, sore throats and, in extreme cases, hypothermia. When it comes to fire safety, this could make some residents “at risk” – or put them at even higher risk than before. Therefore, personal fire safety evaluations must be regularly undertaken to account for vulnerable residents.
Slippery pavements and ice can lead to more falls from older people in the winter months. Each year, 250,000 people aged over 65 are treated in hospital as a result of a fall. This can lead to more residents in the nursing home becoming immobile and, therefore, vulnerable to fire.
Should more residents become vulnerable during the winter months, this can lead to inadequate staffing levels for carrying out fire safety plans. If residents of an increasing number are classed as vulnerable, there might not be enough staff to support those most at risk.
Take preventative measures when it comes to nursing home premises. Remove any trip hazards from paths and surfaces. Use grit or salt to combat slippery surfaces and, if necessary, accompany residents when they are walking outside. Keep your residents and fire safety intact this season.