Fire Safety for Care Homes

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Published: February 7, 2022

Senior woman using laptop.

A good understanding of fire safety is necessary for any premises where people work. In establishments with vulnerable residents, such as care homes, you may need to have specialist procedures in place that cater for individual needs. Care homes are at high risk of fire and their fire safety procedures need to be more complex than in other residences.

For care home residents, emergency evacuation is not as straightforward as ‘just head for the nearest fire exit’. Residents 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.

Care home residents could be bed-bound, suffering from dementia or another mental health problem, hard of hearing, or unable to move without assistance. Vulnerable people may have a slower reaction time to fire alarms. Added to this is the distress that a loud fire alarm can cause. Plans must be in place to ensure no occupant is trapped in the case of a fire, and staff need to be well trained to ensure they know exactly what to do if a fire does break out.

Are you confident in your awareness of fire safety concerning care homes?

Take a look at some common scenarios concerning fire safety and evacuation in the care service industry:

Residents in a care home environment may need support during fire evacuation procedures due to:

  • Low mobility problems and issues 

The type of evacuation strategy that often involves evacuating residents at significant risk first is:

  • A phased evacuation 

In order to evacuate safely, vulnerable residents may need a:

  • Personal emergency evacuation plan 

The person in charge of fire safety in a business is the:

  • Responsible Person 

Risk Assessments in Care Homes 

A fire risk assessment is a legal requirement and needs to be regularly checked and updated. The fire risk assessment must show that reasonable precautions to protect residents and employees have been taken.

As care homes are high risk, it is important that the person that carries out the fire risk assessment has sufficient expertise in fire safety. We recommend enlisting the expertise of a professional risk assessor to undertake this complex task for you.

Your risk assessment will determine the people in the care home who cannot be moved, and as such are exempt from fire drills. 

In this case, a member of staff must remain with each resident that needs to remain in their room.

Senior woman talking with doctor outside.

Fire Alarm Testing in Care Homes 

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. This is an automatic fire detection system 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.

Deaf or hard of hearing residents will be unable to hear a fire alarm. It is important to have a plan in place to alert deaf and hard of hearing residents when the fire alarm sounds. A system with flashing lights might be appropriate, or a vibrating device, text message service or pager system. If a particular member of staff needs to alert the deaf or hard of hearing resident, ensure they are aware of this and there is a plan is in place if they are not at work that day

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

Evacuation Strategies in Care Homes 

There are several methods of evacuation commonly used in care homes. Make sure your method of evacuation is designed by a competent person. Seek advice if you’re unsure which method is best for your building and residents.

Single stage evacuation

This is used for residents, staff and visitors in the ‘independent’ category. With these people, it is reasonably expected that they can evacuate immediately without the need for assistance.

Progressive horizontal evacuation

In many care homes, the evacuation strategy is progressive horizontal evacuation (PHE) which is carried out in stages. This 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. PHE is dependent on passive fire resistance, i.e. walls, floors and doors need to be fire resistant so the fire does not spread.

Delayed evacuation

This process allows people to remain in their rooms while the fire is dealt with. This requires enhanced levels of structural protection — a bedroom needs to be its own individual compartment. This strategy also requires a suitable evacuation plan in case a full evacuation becomes necessary.

A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) should be completed prior to the resident moving in to the care home.

It should then be reviewed after approximately 14 days, once staff have got to know the resident. It should then be reviewed on an ongoing basis, every six months, or if there is a change to the resident’s health, mobility, medication or behaviour.

Senior woman using laptop.

Fire Safety Advice for Care Homes 

We noted above, care homes require special consideration when it comes to fire safety and the associated risks.

For a free survey of your premises to ascertain your particular business's fire safety needs, please get in touch today.