Minimising fire & security risk in care homes

February 22nd, 2021

The majority of residents in a care home environment will have some degree of mobility or mental illness issues which means that evacuation in the event of a fire can have more serious consequences. It can also have far reaching impact on owners, operators and care home staff if the fire is found to have been caused by negligence on their behalf and they may face fines or imprisonment.

In addition to these fire risks, patient security is also of paramount importance and requires that access within the building and grounds of a care home are carefully monitored for unauthorised entry and also against patients wandering into areas where they could place themselves in danger.

Over the last year, the requirement for tighter access control has also increased in importance due to the coronavirus outbreak and the need to restrict contact and prevent the spread of the virus.

For these reasons care home owners, operators and care managers with responsibility for health and safety will be taking fire and security risk much more very seriously.

Whilst you have this duty of care to ensure that you are doing all you can to keep your residents safe, resident will still need to be allowed to enjoy their lives and the environment they live in. There is a very delicate line between ensuring compliance and safety, and providing an environment in which residents will feel at home and not too restricted.

With this in mind Tecserv UK has provided our top tips for minimising fire and security risk in care homes and have identified some key duties and advice as follows:

  • Fire risk assessment
  • Fire and security processes
  • Training and education
  • System and equipment maintenance
  • Enforcement

Fire Risk Assessment

The first question to ask is when was a fire risk assessment last carried out?

Fire safety is regulated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The RRO places responsibilities on anyone with an involvement in fire safety in care homes such as registered managers, risk assessors and fire alarm technicians.

However, the ultimate responsibility lies with the care provider. They are the employer and therefore the lead “Responsible Person” – even if there is an employee or team of responsible individuals.

Fire safety under the Order starts with the fire risk assessment and every care home must ensure that a detailed and up to date assessment is available and that it can demonstrated that staff were informed of key findings and all action can be documented, and more importantly rectified. This record is usually maintained in the fire log.

The fire risk assessment must be carried out by a competent individual. Whilst there is no definition of ‘competent’, our advice is to ensure the person has a recognised qualification and is BAFE approved.

The fire risk assessment not only summarises the fire safety risks within the care home, it will also stipulate the category of fire alarm that should be installed and the measures required to prevent or deal with a fire. It also identifies any areas of improvement required.

Once carried out, the fire risk assessment must be regularly reviewed. Again there is no actual rule on timescales between assessments, but we suggest at least annually, whilst also remaining vigilant for changes in circumstances both within the care home, the grounds and adjacent buildings or roadways. You will be surprised by the number of times fires have spread from adjacent sources!

Within a care home environment other fire risks that should be considered include smoking, use of electronic cigarettes and use skin care creams which can soak into clothes, bandages and bedding creating a fire hazard. The safe storage of mobility scooters should also be considered. Although incidences of mobility scooters catching fire are relatively rare, incidents caused by arson and electrical faults can occur with catastrophic consequences due to the heat and toxic fumes that are released.

Security Risk Assessment

A similar assessment should also take place to assess risks to the care home security and the safety of residents. Security risks may include theft of patient possessions and equipment, and of course risks to the patients from unauthorised exit and entry to buildings, gardens ad car parks.

Normally, when security equipment is first installed, a risk assessment will have been carried out in order to identify these security risks to ensure the design of intruder alarms, access control and CCTV systems is uniquely specified according to the security risk assessment. Factors that will be considered include the layout of the care home, facilities that are provided, location and the level of risk presented by the severity of health issues of your residents.

Risk assessment conclusion

Just like fire risks, security risk can be affected by many factors at the time so it is important to ensure the risk assessment is ongoing and evolving.   It is important to be aware of internal and external factors that may alter the fire and security risk.

Fire & Security processes, training and enforcement

Your fire and security processes should include plans for:

  • Fire safety education and training to ensure awareness of risks and safety policies
  • The safe evacuation of the building in the event of a safety threat such as fire, terrorism, intruders, gas explosion etc,
  • Fire drill practice routines

One of the most challenging areas of fire safety for care homes is the evacuation of residents in the event of fire, especially at night. It is important to ensure plans are in place and the staff that are on shift have adequate training to ensure these plans can be actioned effectively. Particularly at night – as there may be a temptation to reduce staff numbers because patients are sleeping.

The best way to test your processes is to practice them and carry out evacuation drills. The Fire Service will expect to see evidence that these have been carried out regularly.

To ensure these can be conducted within the evacuation guidelines, you will also need to consider the mobility needs of the residents and each should have a personal emergency evacuation plan.

In a care home, where evacuation may take some time, it is even more important that the walls, doors, ceilings, floors, and windows that exist between each fire safe compartment can protect escape routes and remain capable of holding back fire and smoke. This means ensuring staff realise the dangers of propping open fire doors, blocking fire exits and having and awareness of using materials on walls that could be a fire risk.

System maintenance

Now that you are confident you have the right fire and security systems installed, that policies and processes are in place, your team is well trained and aware of fire and security risks and prioritise resident safety, it is important to ensure all systems and equipment are well maintained so that they will work reliably.

This includes ensuring that:

  • Fire alarms and intruder alarms are regularly maintained by a trained engineer who will check operation of the system.
  • Movement sensors and fire detection devices fitted within all areas such as lounges, hallways, kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, rooms which provide services such as hairdressing salons and other spaces for social gatherings such as cinema rooms, libraries and bar areas are operating correctly
  • Emergency lighting is effective
  • Fire extinguishers are fully operational and that the correct type is installed in each recommended location.
  • CCTV camera’s are clean and operating effectively
  • Access control systems are programmed correctly

Enforcement

All care home will have visits from the fire service who will carry out inspections, and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will also take an interest in care home fire safety, and findings from these inspections can affect care home ratings.

It is important to ensure that fire and security risk is a constant priority as fire and security failings have played a part in homes being rates ‘Inadequate’ and are all too frequently part of the basis for cancelling CQC registrations of some care home operators.

Summary

Fire and security risks within care homes can be minimised by adopting a proactive approach and ensuring fire and security awareness is part of your care home culture.

This means ensuring staff understand policies and procedures, are aware of fire and security risk and will report and take appropriate action when they spot them, ensuring that fire and security risk assessments are completed, fire drills are practiced and systems are well maintained at all times.

If you would like to learn more about how installing access control, intruder alarm or CCTV systems can improve the security of your care home, or you would like to lean more about fire risk assessments and how to do a risk assessment please get in touch.