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Fire safety in care homes

Fire safety in care homes

There are many challenges to managing fire safety in a care home. Elderly people are often less mobile; they may use walking sticks or wheelchairs, or be unable to walk without assistance. It can be a struggle for many to move around easily. Emergency evacuation is not a straightforward procedure.

Vulnerable people may have a slower reaction time to fire alarms. Conditions such as dementia will cause confusion and forgetfulness, leading to ovens not being turned off, or cigarettes not being properly extinguished.

A 2014/15 government report found that 41% of all fatalities from fires in England were people aged 65 and over. This makes the elderly 10 times more likely to die in a fire than younger people.

All of this means that care homes are at high risk of fire and their fire safety procedures need to be more complex than in other residences.

Top tips

Fire risk assessments

By law, all care homes must have a fire risk assessment. This needs to be regularly checked and updated. The fire risk assessment must show that reasonable precautions to protect residents and employees have been taken.

Frequent checks of the building need to be made. Things to look out for include:

  • Fire doors are closing properly and are not wedged or propped open
  • Fire extinguishers are present and in working order
  • Fire hazards such as faulty electrical equipment or overloaded power sockets are dealt with
  • Evacuation routes are clear of obstacles
  • General housekeeping — anything can turn lethal if it comes into contact with the heat of a fire, so keep areas tidy to reduce this risk and keep people safe.

Click here for more information on fire risk assessments.

Fire safety training

Training should be spread out throughout the year and all staff should be trained in how to use fire extinguishers. All employees need fire safety training on their first day.

It’s important that all staff know what to do when the fire alarm sounds. What is the evacuation plan? Who are the fire wardens?

How many fire wardens do we need?

A care home is considered a high risk premises so the number of fire wardens recommended is as follows:

Fewer than 15 employees/residents — At least one fire warden

15-50 employees/residents — At least two fire wardens

For every additional 50 — One additional fire warden

It’s important to remember that all shifts must be adequately covered, so you may have to nominate additional fire wardens to ensure there are enough fire wardens for each shift.

Fire drills

The law says that fire drills need to be done, as a minimum, once a year. However all employees must do a drill at least once a year, so you may need to do more than one if people are not in on drill day or if new employees are hired.

Fire drills need to be recorded in the fire risk assessment. If any particular risks or hazards are identified, these also need to be noted and steps taken to remove these.

Evacuation

In care homes there should be a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) in place for each individual resident, detailing their needs and requirements. All staff should have access to, and be made aware of, these PEEPs.

It can be useful to set the fire alarm off and record each resident’s response and reaction to it. In some cases, a loud continuous noise can provoke unexpected reactions including violent outbursts or even seizures.

Horizontal evacuation might be required in a care home, which means moving residents to safe parts of the building, away from the fire. This method is used if residents are bedbound, for example, and it is difficult to do a full evacuation.

This method is dependent on passive fire resistance, i.e. walls, floors and doors need to be fire resistant so the fire does not spread.

For further information on passive fire resistance and the spread of fire, click here.

If residents are smokers, a separate smoking risk assessment is important.

Fire alarms

Resident welfare needs to be taken into consideration when testing alarms. Ensure that the test is done at the same time every week and that residents are warned.

It is a requirement for care homes to have an L1 fire alarm system. These are automatic fire detection systems designed to cover the whole building, including unused areas such as roof spaces. L1 systems are designed to have the earliest possible warning of fire for everyone in the building. This is particularly important in care homes as residents will need more time to evacuate safely.

It’s very important to stick to a fire alarm maintenance schedule to ensure the alarm system is in good working order.

Fire doors

Fire doors prevent the spread of smoke and fire. In the event of an emergency, employees will have the hard task of going around and informing the residents. Faith in the doors can help instil a sense of calm.

A fire door is heavy, and needs to be closed to serve its purpose. If you are an elderly resident in a care home, closed fire doors can be isolating. They are difficult to open and can cause injury if they close too quickly. This might mean residents stay in their room as they are concerned about moving through a heavy door safely.

It might be tempting to prop or wedge a fire door open but this is dangerous. If a fire door is wedged open, it won’t close in an emergency and fire and smoke will spread rapidly. This is particularly dangerous in care settings as residents will need more time to evacuate or will be unable to evacuate without assistance.

Deaf residents

Deaf or hard of hearing residents will be unable to hear a fire alarm. A system with flashing lights might be appropriate. Fireco’s Deafgard is placed under the pillow and vibrates and lights up when an alarm sounds. If a pager system is preferred, DMS alerts people by text message in an emergency.

Common sense is always useful when it comes to fire safety. If you see something that looks like a fire hazard, remove it, or speak to the person that can. Keep your risk assessment updated and ongoing and make sure everyone knows exactly what to do in an emergency. Knowledge and safety go hand in hand.

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Fire safety tips for schools

Fire safety tips for schools

The cost of a school fire can be huge. Lives are at risk. Fire damage is not only expensive to repair, it causes disruption and can even affect exam results, and staff and pupil morale.

What measures do schools need to take to minimise the risk of fire, keep everyone safe and comply with fire regulations?

Fire risk assessments

All schools must complete a fire risk assessment. This needs to be updated regularly. Fire risk assessments identify what precautions are needed to prevent fires in schools.

They also need to identify what happens if a fire does break out, and how people can evacuate easily and safely.

You will need to:

  • Ensure procedures are in place to reduce the likelihood of fire
  • Maintain fire detection and alarm systems
  • Ensure staff and pupils are familiar with emergency evacuation procedures.

It is important that:

  • Fire risk assessments are kept up to date
  • Fire precautions remain current and adequate (they should be reviewed in detail when significant alterations are made to a school’s premises).

Quick tips for fire safety in schools

Day-to-day there are some very simple measures you can take to make sure your school is fire safe, and prevent risk to life and property. Make sure that:

  • Fire doors are in good working order
  • Evacuation plans are up to date
  • Regular fire drills are undertaken
  • Means of escape routes are kept clear and have no obstructions
  • Fire doors are not wedged open
  • Rubbish and waste is removed from the building and stored in secure bins that cannot be accessed by intruders
  • High value equipment is out of sight in a locked separate room.

Think about areas might be high risk in your school. Are chemicals stored correctly in the science lab? Is there a procedure to ensure all Bunsen burners are turned off and safely stored? If you have a lighting rig in the hall or drama department, has it been tested to ensure it is safe?

Arson

Arson is the act of intentionally setting fire to buildings, areas, vehicles or any other type of property and is one of the leading causes of school fires.

Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service has recommendations for preventing arson at schools including:

  • Maintain an effective intruder alarm system that is connected to a call-monitoring centre.
  • Obtain advice on lighting and CCTV from the local Crime Reduction Officer
  • Ensure all doors windows and skylights are secure. A nominated person should be responsible for making sure all doors and windows are closed and locked at the end of each day
  • Remove graffiti immediately. If it’s left, vandals might start to see the school as a target
  • Maintain good relationships with neighbours and encourage them to contact the police if they see anything unusual.

Sprinkler systems

Sprinklers are mandatory in new school buildings in Scotland and Wales but not in England and Northern Ireland.

However the national Fire Chiefs Council has criticised this and recommends that sprinklers are fitted in all new school buildings.

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How to prevent the spread of fire

After the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, fire safety is an issue on everyone’s minds. Questions are being asked about inadequate safety measures. How do we stop this from happening again?

Why do we need fire doors?

Fire doors save lives. They’re designed to stop the spread of fire and smoke for a specified amount of time.

The SIMPLE guide to workplace fire safety

The SIMPLE guide to workplace fire safety

Fire safety in the workplace can seem complicated, but we’re here to make it SIMPLE. 

  1. Store stock safely: so keep corridors, stairs and exits clear to aid easier evacuation. The last thing you need is an obstacle course on your way to safety!

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  1. Identify alarm points: make sure everyone knows where the fire alarm points are, so if necessary, people can raise the alarm quickly.

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  1. Make sure doors are closed to stop fires from spreading. The picture below shows a common occurrence, a fire door being wedged open. Wedging a fire door will allow a fire to spread relentlessly throughout the building, damaging property and putting lives at risk.

 

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  1. Place things that catch fire away from things that cause fire: things you use every day can turn into deadly materials when they come into contact with flames, so something as simple as keeping flammable items stored safely can reduce the risk and make a workplace safer.

 

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  1. Let someone know if you spot fire safety problems: do you or your colleagues know who to speak to when you spot a fire hazard in the office? Ask your boss to speak to the responsible person, usually your employer or the building owner. 

 

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  1. Ensure everyone knows what to do if a fire alarm sounds: do your staff know where to go when the fire alarm sounds? Down the pub? Run for their lives? Making sure that everyone knows what to do when the alarm sounds can save lives in a real fire situation.

 

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What are the duties of a fire warden?

Fire wardens play a vital role in a workplace’s fire safety plan. They make sure that everyone is prepared should an emergency occur.

If a fire alarm sounds, whether it’s for a fire drill or a real emergency, fire wardens need to:

  • Direct everyone to leave the building by using the nearest and most appropriate exits
  • Make sure exit doors are clear of obstructions
  • Check all areas to ensure everyone has evacuated
  • Close all doors behind them to contain any fire and smoke
  • Guide everyone to the assembly point and check that everyone has arrived safely

Tips for quick and safe evacuation

  • Act quickly. Alert everyone, get together and take your planned route out
  • Don’t waste time saving valuables
  • Test to see if a door is warm with the back of your hand before opening, fire may be on the other side
  • Don’t investigate the fire unless trained to do so
  • If there’s smoke, keep as low as possible
  • Close any open doors behind you
  • If you’re trapped in a fire, get behind a fire door and block the bottom of the door with a towel, sheets or clothing to prevent smoke getting through.
  • Call 999
  • Don’t go back into the building.

There are lots ways to provide a safer environment at work. Common sense and easily accessible information are vital. Make sure there’s an evacuation plan in place, and undertake regular fire drills to ensure everyone knows what to do when the alarm sounds.

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How to improve fire door access

How to improve fire door access

Closed fire doors save lives. They prevent the spread of fire through a building, keeping people safe while they evacuate. But closed fire doors can hinder access through a building. How can you solve five of the biggest issues with closed fire doors?

Heavy doors

Fire doors are heavy — they need to be to be able to contain a fire. However, trying to push open a heavy fire door can be difficult for younger school pupils, frailer residents at a care home or hospital or those with limited mobility.

Closed doors

Wedged open fire doors are illegal because fire doors need to be closed to do their job. However closed doors prevent the circulation of fresh air, which can lead to a stuffy environment. They also can be a physical and mental barrier to those with limited mobility, as well as difficult to open for those with heavy luggage or pushchairs.

Damage

In hospitals and schools, closed fire doors can easily sustain damage. Stretchers, electronic equipment, wheelchairs, beds — a lot of cumbersome apparatus needs to be quickly transported around a hospital. And children can be a little heavy-handed (or footed) with doors!

Isolation

A closed, heavy fire door can be a mental barrier, as well as a physical one. For patients in hospital, or residents in care homes, a closed door to their room can lead to feelings of isolation, particularly if they are unable to move around without assistance.

Fire doors make access difficult. In residential care and sheltered accommodation, fire doors can create feelings of loneliness as people find it difficult to open them. This can lead to residents feeling trapped, forcing them to become dependent on staff. If fire evacuations don’t go to plan, this can cause serious problems.

It’s not just those who are elderly or have mobility issues that are affected. It can also be the case in university halls of residence, where socialising with fellow residents is vital when you’re new and need to make friends.

Injuries

Younger school pupils or people with limited mobility may struggle to open heavy doors, and could be injured when doors close quickly. Closed fire doors can also be dangerous for staff at hotels or workers in an office carrying hot drinks or food to another room.

Fires don’t happen every day so fire doors are used as normal doors most of the time. As they are heavier than a standard door, there is the potential for injuries. If hands or other parts of your body get trapped, injuries can be severe.

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Wedging fire doors is not the answer

With all of these issues, it’s no wonder that for an easier life, people look for ways to keep their fire doors open.

Fire doors are safety devices which are there to help protect lives. However, regulations state they are meant to be kept closed in case of a fire. This means people might wedge them open, which is dangerous and can result in devastating consequences.

The safe solution

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how our everyday schedules can affect fire safety, but there are simple ways that fire doors can be kept open safely, so you can enable greater access without the worry of non-compliance.

Closed fire doors perform a vital function, they prevent fires from spreading. Being able to keep them open safely improves access and quality of life for everyone. Fitting a door retainer that holds doors open and allows them to close automatically in the case of an emergency brings peace of mind and easy compliance with regulations.

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The chicken and the wheelie bin

I used to be quite calm about door wedges before I worked at Fireco. Even on fire doors. In hotels, universities, factories – in any place you can think of, the door wedge rules. It’s cheap, it’s effective and it’s lethal.

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The importance of effective lockdown

The importance of effective lockdown

Lockdown is a security measure used in buildings to keep people safe from an immediate threat.

In partial lockdown, doors leading to the outside are locked and no one can get in or out. A full lockdown requires people to stay put and not move out the room. All doors are shut and locked.

When is lockdown used?

The use of emergency lockdown is on the increase. There are many situations when it is implemented, including natural disasters, criminal threats, terrorist activity and chemical spills or gas leaks. It is used in prisons, schools, universities, hospitals, or any public building that needs to protect its occupants.

A common reason for lockdown is if there is an intruder inside or outside the building, or if a crime is taking place nearby. It is safer for occupants to stay put, lock all doors and wait for the emergency services.

Recent examples

In May 2017, a Sussex school was forced into lockdown after a group of travellers broke in and set up camp on the playing field. Center Parcs in Suffolk was put on lockdown due to a suspect package. Hundreds of guests were evacuated from the main building area, including the swimming pool, and told to remain in their cabins.

Lockdown in schools

Schools are a huge growth area for lockdown. The teacher’s union NASUWT recently called on the government to put together a coherent strategy for lockdown procedures in schools. NASUWT stated that it was an urgent matter that schools were specifically prepared for security and terrorism threats.

Some schools already run their own ad hoc drills. West Yorkshire council has been running seminars providing advice on lockdown scenarios, including aggressive pupils or parents, as well as bomb threats.

Fireco can help. Our Dorgard Pro system allows all doors to close at once, to form part of an effective lockdown procedure.

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