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Care-focused organisations warned against “taking risks” on fire safety

05 April 2021

FIRE CAN exert a devastating effect on organisations, with statistics suggesting that around 70% of businesses fail within three years of a major fire episode. Why, then, does it appear that so many care-focused organisations are taking risks when it comes to fire safety? iHASCO is stressing that care home owners and managers (and, indeed, all members of staff) must be trained in fire safety awareness and what to do if a fire episode should occur.

Without exception, fire safety is considered a fundamental responsibility and those working in the care sector have the added commitment of ensuring any vulnerable individuals are safe in the event of a fire. Given that some of those receiving care are unable to react quickly or move at all if a fire breaks out, it’s easy to see how fire prevention plays an incredibly crucial role in such a setting.

Care home owners and managers, as well as hospital staff, have to be competent in understanding how to prevent fires, but also how to raise the alarm and evacuate the building. There are a greater number of challenges in these environments as they are often busy and contain a larger number of fire hazards.

There are plenty of potential ignition sources in a care environment, including cooking appliances, electrical equipment, cigarettes or even mobility equipment. Add to this the huge potential number of combustible and flammable fuel sources, such as toiletries, cleaning products, paper products, furniture and waste products – to name but a few – and it’s easy to see how a fire could spread pretty swiftly.

Tragically, lives have been lost in care home fires in recent years, with prosecutions realised due to inadequate fire safety measures. Indeed, a report published by the London Fire Brigade detailed that, on inspection, no less than 177 care homes had insufficient fire safety measures, including poorly maintained fire doors, risk assessments being conducted by those without the correct experience to do so, considerable confusion about evacuation procedures and roofs being excluded as a fire risk.

Concerns over fire safety

These findings raise concerns over fire safety across all care homes and act as a reminder of the importance of reviewing practices and ensuring that training for members of staff is regularly refreshed. In 2019, Ian Trenholm (CEO of the Care Quality Commission) wrote to care homes, hospices and independent hospitals, duly urging them to review their fire safety procedures with a view towards making sure the latter are up-to-date and consistently applied. At the time, the same hugely important message was imparted to NHS Trusts.

A couple of years on and, given the current pandemic, care homes and hospitals have clearly been under a huge amount of pressure, but that doesn’t afford them a break from their fire safety responsibilities. It has been suggested that the use of a greater number of ventilators will increase the risk of combustion in hospital wards. While it was agreed that oxygen isn’t flammable, the higher oxygen content in a specific area could help a fire to spread faster.

There’s also the issue that refreshing staff training and completing fire drills has been more challenging due to time constraints and staff working around the clock to cover extra shifts and absences.

Fire risk assessments might also have been required to be reviewed more regularly as temporary staff may have been brought in and working practices could well have changed, so too shift patterns or the number of building occupants.

Fires in care homes

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has stated that the Top Three causes of fires in care homes ae cooking and cookers (41%), kitchen appliances (21%) and smoking-related causes (13%). The LFB has also highlighted the common concerns in care homes as being out-of-date plans, especially so as residents’ needs change frequently, lack of fire drill practices and too few staff to carry out the evacuation plan (particularly at night).

Those in the sector who have good fire safety measures in place and provide staff with high-quality training will be far better equipped to prevent fires and minimise the risks. While there are legal obligations to be met when it comes to fire safety, providing high standards of care also includes protecting those that are vulnerable from any threats or dangers.

Alex Wilkins, head of business development at iHASCO, has worked with a number of care clients over the years to provide affordable and engaging online fire awareness courses designed to support these organisations with their fire safety responsibilities.

“Health and Safety must be taken seriously,” urged Wilkins. “Fire safety training is essential for any member of staff. In fact, it’s a legal requirement for staff in the UK. It’s arguably even more important for care and educational settings to make sure this is right due to the number of people entrusted to such organisations’ care.”

Wilkins continued: “We all know just how devastating fire can be. No care business should be cutting any corners or taking any unnecessary risks. It should be remembered that fire safety is an ongoing practice that, when approached correctly, is the very best form of defence against a fire.”

*iHASCO’s Fire Awareness Training in Care eLearning course can be trialled for free for those employers interested in providing high-quality training to their workers. Contact iHASCO via e-mail at hello@ihasco.co.uk or visit www.ihasco.co.uk