In December 2013, three North West care home owners were prosecuted for fire safety failings. Richard Dickinson, aged 67 was found guilty of three breaches of the Fire legislation following a blaze at the Rangemore Nursing Home in Knutsford. Dickinson was sentenced to a 12 months prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work. He will also have to pay £68,362.05.
Following a small fire in a care home in Liverpool, the joint owners shared a £48000 fine. When fire fighters arrived they found night duty staff had evacuated leaving residents unsupervised. Rosepark Care Home in Scotland saw fourteen residents lose their lives needlessly in a fire due in part to the slow reactions of staff and inability to locate the fire’s origin.
It is clear that this high risk sector is plagued with issues that other businesses don’t have. Waking and evacuating sleeping and mobility impaired residents during a night shift when the staff/resident ratios are at their lowest, is an onerous task. Government funding cuts mean owners must look at ways to save money. This may mean using less experienced or under qualified contractors or those who operate under the VAT threshold.
So, from the restricted fire safety budget, which part of the package of fire protection measures must you focus on to ensure that you don’t end up on the wrong side of jury service? To understand this you need an appreciation of the behaviour of fire and how it interacts with the buildings protective arrangements.
Passive protection arrangements such as self closing fire doors and even fire and smoke seals carry out an important role during fire conditions. However it is the performance of two more critical elements you are depending on first; the fire alarm system and the competent staff member. Should these function appropriately you will have a window of opportunity not afforded to the staff in care homes such as Rosepark or the many others where fatalities have occurred. So my advice is simple;
1) Ensure your fire detection/alarm system is fit for purpose and maintained by fire alarm specialists (not electricians or security engineers)
2) Ensure your employees are appropriately fire trained and at all times there is one competent staff member on duty who can read the fire alarm panel and reach the actuating detector within a reasonable timescale.
By Mike Pearson