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Proposed sprinkler requirement in care homes a “positive step” asserts BSA

23 January 2023

THE RECENT announcement from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on proposed changes to Approved Document B of the Building Regulations is welcomed by the Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) as a “common sense step” in the drive to improve fire safety in care homes.

The Government is proposing several new updates to Approved Document B, including recommendations to mandate sprinklers in care homes, regardless of height. As such, the Government is inviting responses to its consultation process, which is open until 17 March 2023.

According to Care Home UK, there are circa 17,100 care homes in the UK housing nearly half a million individuals. Recent figures from the Home Office indicated that, for the financial years 2016-2017 to 2020-2021, there were just over 3,100 fire incidents in such homes, with 589 people being injured as a result. Tragically, seven individuals lost their lives in these episodes.

The majority of UK care homes have fire alarms and detection systems installed, while members of staff have to undergo fire safety training. However, the majority of care homes do not have sprinkler systems installed.

Case Studies

Care homes can be vulnerable to fire outbreaks. The fire at the New Grange Residential Care Home in Cheshunt in 2017, for example, claimed the lives of two people, while the building itself was substantially damaged. This fire led to a coroner raising the issue of the lack of fire sprinklers in such buildings, highlighting the belief that the installation of such systems could prevent future deaths.

A substantial fire occurred at the Beechmere Care Home in Crewe in 2019. There were no sprinklers installed. If the incident commander had not overruled the ‘Stay Put’ policy and ordered a full and immediate evacuation of the premises, the outcome of this fire would have had been very different.

The Beechmere Care Home incident also raises the question as to why elderly people, many of whom need assistance, were housed in a building which was not served by sprinklers and, therefore, vulnerable to fire damage.

Many care home residents are not readily mobile and have difficulty in evacuating unaided. Additionally, due to age or dementia issues, many residents are easily disoriented and confused.

Between the financial years 2016-2017 and 2020-2021, statistics issued by the Home Office indicate that 203 fire incidents resulted in the need for 368 people to be rescued through the intervention of Fire and Rescue Services personnel. In three of those incidents, 25 or more people needed to be rescued. For this reason, and given the casualty figures noted earlier, the BSA firmly believes that care homes are higher risk buildings, regardless of their height, and should be designed with automatic sprinkler systems that deliver life, health and property benefits.

Efficient and effective

Fire sprinkler systems are efficient and effective in reducing the impact of fire such that, when fires start, they are quickly contained and further materials are not involved, thereby minimising damage and fire spread.

Sprinkler systems add another layer of protection and make buildings such as care homes resilient to the impact of fire because they automatically control or even put out the blaze before the Fire and Rescue Service arrives at the scene. This affords a secondary benefit to the well-being of staff, residents and relatives alike, who know there are additional measures in place. Those measures reduce the likelihood of care home residents needing to be re-homed.

Iain Cox, chair of the BSA, observed: “The BSA has long since advocated for the installation of sprinkler systems in care homes. We welcome the Government’s consultation and the proposed amendments to Approved Document B of the Building Regulations, including the proposed mandate that all new care homes are fitted with sprinklers. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to fire safety. The consequences of not doing the right thing can prove tragically fatal. It’s high time we changed that situation.”

*For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit the organisation’s website at www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org