Care home inspections point to a shocking disregard for adequate levels of fire safety

Despite the increased attention given to fire over the last two years, sensitivity to fire safety is still not apparently at the high level it really needs to be given the unpredictability and uncertainties of fire. London Fire Brigade have reported that the elderly are potentially at risk in significant numbers of care homes that they have inspected.  The brigade has found that too many failed to measure up in formal audits, when awareness of the dangers from fire would be expected to be acute. 
It can never be appropriate to relax the focus on fire safety. The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 brought fire safety into line with established health and safety procedures.  Places other than individual private homes (dwellings such as houses and apartments) require a fire risk assessment of the fire safety measures and the means of escape.  Fire is a particular potential threat in care homes where residents are extremely vulnerable and unable to escape to a place of safety without help. 
Yet London Fire Brigade have reported several staggering outcomes from their surveys:
  • 45% of the care homes evaluated in the formal audit were found to have fire risk assessments that were unsuitable or insufficient;
  • 101 out of 177 of inspected premises had to be issued with a formal warning;   
  • in 29% of the inspected homes problems were found with fire doors; and
  • one in seven have been said to have poor emergency planning or a potential shortfall in staff to fully carry out the emergency plan.
Such reports are truly shocking given the prominence of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry, the Hackitt Report, attention from Government in their implementation plan and numerous guidance notes from the MHCLG’s Expert Panel. All have been in the headlines.  Fire safety could not have been more under a public spotlight. We’ve seen the biggest, most sustained campaign on fire safety awareness in the national press for several years.  Not before time many are saying.
The brigade carried out its audit review because of concerns over a series of fires in care homes.  In February 2018 a resident in his 80’s died, and another left in a critical condition. In 2017 two died in a Cheshunt care home after a fire spread through the roof to quickly engulf the building. 
There can be no room for uncertainty and doubt concerning fire safety.  Nothing must be left to chance.  Fire safety measures and precautions for escape need to be regularly checked and double checked to be confident that they are fit for their intended purpose should fire break out.  Fire safety should always be a combination of different measures working together, with back-up where risks justify an increased level of confidence. 
The lessons of major fires point to the critical need to protect escape ways from fire penetration and to keep them free of black choking smoke.   Preventing fire movement and transfer is key to any fire protection strategy. And in complex and tall buildings or other buildings where escape can be perhaps difficult, complicated and drawn out with major risks to residents then the resilient endurance of the fire-resistant barriers is potentially crucial.  In fire, extended time for assisted rescue and assistance to get out is an important consideration.    
Vision panels are esential in fire doors, along corridors, in lobbies and in walls or partitions surrounding areas which require special protection combined with transparency for observation and perhaps security.  Fire-resistant glazing therefore has a major part to play in maintaining adequate levels of safety and protection against fire.
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