Fire safety in hospitals

Admissions to hospitals are increasing year-on-year. Fires in hospitals come with added risk owing to the equipment and materials located on site. Read up on fire safety in hospitals for the lowdown on what action to take should a fire occur in hospital.

Hospitals exist to help us and mend us back to full health, but what happens when there is a fire at a hospital? Fire safety in hospitals is something to be taken very seriously.

It goes without saying that the evacuation of any hospital or similar healthcare facility is much more complicated than evacuating a normal building. This is because evacuating a hospital involves moving high dependency and immobile patients as quickly and as safely as possible.

With hospital evacuations on the rise, it is more important than ever to be clued up on the subject of fire safety in hospitals. In fact, the number of patients admitted to hospital urgently has creased by almost half over the past ten years, averaging 3.2% per year.

Patients arriving at the accident and emergency departments are sicker than ever before – and, therefore, they are more likely to need admission. Emergency admissions have increased rapidly for older patients aged 85 or over.

To ensure any potential evacuations are carried out as safely and as quickly as possible, there are strict guidelines in place, as it is the legal responsibility of both hospitals and Health Care Trusts to have an adequate means of escape from a fire, as well as have sufficient firefighting equipment located on site.

It is likely that you are a little unfamiliar with the protocol of fire safety in hospitals, so we have covered the most frequently asked questions.

Fire safety in hospitals FAQs

  • What is the law surrounding fire safety in hospitals?

The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 is responsible for fire safety measures in hospitals.

  • What is the Order?

The Order requires that fire precautions including fire detection and warning, emergency routes and firefighting equipment are provided and maintained in appropriate condition.

  • Who enforces the Order?

In the case of the majority of premises, the fire and rescue authority local to the hospital will enforce the Order.

  • What are the main rules under the Order?

The Order involves carrying out a fire risk assessment. Here, you must identify any possible dangers and risks. While carrying out this risk assessment, it is important to consider those who are at a heightened risk, i.e. immobile patients. You must reduce the risk from fire as much as reasonably possible.

Other measures must be taken if necessary for protection. A plan should be created, detailing what to do in an emergency. A record of this must be kept, and these findings should be reviewed regularly.

  • Who is responsible for meeting the Order?

Under the Order, anyone who has control – or a degree of control – of the premises or certain areas of the premises may be deemed a responsible person.

This is likely to include the managing agent or owner for shared parts of premises or shared fire safety equipment, the employer for those parts of premises staff may answer to, or the occupier – whether this is a voluntary organisation or refers to self-employed people. Essentially, any person with a degree of control over any part of the premises is responsible for meeting the Order.

  • Fires in hospitals are rare but it helps to know what to do should one ever break out. What should I do if I discover a fire

If you discover a fire, alert a member of staff immediately. They will take the necessary further action. Follow any instructions that they deliver quickly, calmly and as carefully as possible.

  • What should I do if I hear the fire alarm ringing?

If the signal is intermittent, prepare for evacuation but hang tight for further information.

If the fire alarm is continuous, this is an evacuation signal. If you are in a medical area, staff will move you to a safety area where you will be told to await further instruction. For all other areas of the hospital, leave via the fire exit – you will then be directed to assembly points by staff.

  • What can I do to help prevent a fire?

To help prevent fire, or to help prevent a fire from spreading, you should never leave fire doors wedged open. Items, combustible materials and obstructions should never be placed close to an escape route or corridor.

Fire safety in hospitals in more detail

Taking fire safety seriously and managing it well means that fires are less likely to occur – and, if one is to occur, they are more likely to be controlled or contained quickly and efficiently.

Depending on the size of the hospital, at least one competent person will be appointed to carry out the protective measures that fall under the Fire Safety Order. This person will have the relevant training, experience and knowledge to be able to implement such measures appropriately.

However, it is not all down to the competent person, as employees should be provided with clear and relevant information about the risks to them. These risks and how to prevent them are identified in the fire risk assessment.

The role of employees in fire safety in hospitals

Employees of the hospital must be consulted about being nominated to carry out particular roles in cohesion with the fire safety measures. For any employee who is a minor, their parent or guardian must be given clear and relevant information on the risks to their child and the measures that are in place to protect them from fire.

During the normal working hours of employees, appropriate information, instruction and training regarding fire precautions in the workplace must be provided. Such information must be delivered when they start working, and they should be reminded of precautions regarding fire safety from time to time when necessary.

Employees must be cooperative to help ensure that the workplace is safe from fire and its dangers. They must never do anything that places themselves or others at risk.

Those who work at the hospital but are not employed directly, i.e. temporary or contract workers, must be made aware of the relevant risks to them and provided with information about who the competent persons are, as well as the procedures for fire safety.

Employees of any hospital must consider the presence of dangerous substances and the resulting risk they present to a fire. These employees should know how to contact the emergency services and inform them of any dangerous substances if they are to pose a fire risk.

Safely evacuating a hospital

In an emergency situation in a hospital, it is important that everyone is evacuated as safely and as quickly as possible. Many patients will be unable to walk independently out of the building.

To safely evacuate patients who are immobile or of high dependency, it is recommended that you use an evacuation aid. There are various evacuation aids for adults, children and infants – these aids allow patients to be moved safely and swiftly along escape routes, both horizontally and down any stairs.

For patients who cannot be moved from their beds, there are evacuation mats and sheets which can be fitted directly onto hospital beds, allowing patients to be slid safety. For babies and infants, various specialist devices can help you to evacuate them safely.

Fire hazards in hospitals

It is no secret that a fire in hospital can prove fatal, so it is vital that fire equipment is correctly maintained. Fire alarms, fire doors, fire extinguishers and other relevant firefighting equipment should be regularly tested. Failing to do so poses a huge risk to the safety of patients and employees alike.

Hospitals are very busy places, and there are many fire hazards present; however, there is no escaping those hazards. Electrical equipment and flammable chemicals posing such risks are essential to the health service.

Sources of ignition

Owing to the numerous healthcare machines, televisions and computers on every floor, there is a high possibility of an electrical fire breaking out in a hospital. The dangers are heightened when sockets are overused.

The fire safety officer is the person responsible for ensuring that the correct number of electrical sockets are in place and, where necessary, hiring an electrician to fit more sockets.

Often, guests will bring in plug extension cables so that they can charge their phone, tablet or laptop. The fire safety officer or competent person should monitor the use of sockets while communicating the risks to patients and their visitors and reminding employees of the possible dangers.

Many of the medicines used in hospitals contain flammable chemicals. More often than not, such materials are stored together; hence, it is important to ensure that there are no potential sources of ignition close by.

Failing to comply with such measures poses a serious risk, as the supplies found in medical storage boast enough raw material to burn at a much faster pace than other areas in a hospital. Because of this, it is likely the fire that will spread rapidly – too rapidly for people to be able to escape.

Hazardous materials and chemicals are not the only possible ignition sources. Much larger pieces of medical equipment – such as electrosurgical equipment and lasers – also pose fire risks, as these machines can get very warm.

As heat is one of the main sources of fires, if these machines are close to any of the medicines containing flammable materials, fire can spread at an alarming pace.

With hospitals often come oxygen tanks and compressed gases such as nitrous oxide. While the canisters containing such gases are designed to be able to withhold high temperatures, they are far from fireproof. Therefore, it is possible for the canisters to overheat and explode. Such explosions can fire pieces of debris metal with great force.

Like with domestic properties and many other commercial properties, cigarettes still prove a huge problem in hospitals. Although people smoke outdoors now, it is still possible for the open flame to start an outside fire that spreads into the building.

Due to this possibility, people wishing to smoke must do so at an appropriate distance from the main entrance – not least because such areas often provide the main routes of escape during a fire.

Bonfire Night

The 5th of November is an age-old pastime throughout the UK – and, while we all love celebrating Guy Fawkes Night, marvelling at the various fireworks displays, fireworks and bonfires comes with great risks.

From 2014/15, there has been a 47% increase in hospital admissions from firework-related injuries. It is important that you air caution when using fireworks and make yourself aware of the risks involved.

There were almost two million patients admitted to accident and emergency (A&E) in November 2017 – and, while not all of these admissions were related to Bonfire Night, there is a risk of an increase in admissions.

Therefore, hospital staff should remind themselves of the fire safety protocol in place. It would be a tragic twist of irony to receive treatment for a fire-related injury only to succumb to further injury in hospital.

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