There have been many instances of fires or fire related accidents in residential care homes. It is imperative to carry out a clear, concise and manageable risk assessment that is regularly reviewed and updated as required. The HSE have produced a step by step fire risk assessment process for residential care homes. These fundamentals can be applied to any residential or working establishment. The main steps of the risk assessment include identifying the fire hazards and identifying the people at risk. Following on from this, it includes evaluating, reducing and removing the risks so far as is practically possible. Also, how people in the care home will be protected. There is then a section on recording, planning, informing, training and reviewing.
- Identify the Hazards in the Care Home
In order for a fire to start it needs a source of ignition. This is a source of heat which can include smoking materials and naked flames.Other sources include electrical circuits, cooking equipment, faulty equipment, lighting equipment, hot surfaces, malicious damage and equipment owned or used by residents. All sources of ignition need to be identified. The next thing that needs to be identified are sources of fuel. This includes anything that will burn well including laundry, wood, flammable products, plastics, rubber, waste products, hardboard and chipboard. Nearly everything could be included as a source of fuel. Sources of oxygen include the natural airflow, mechanical air conditioning systems, some chemicals (oxidising materials) and oxygen supplies in cylinders.
- Identify the people at risk in the Care Home
Those people that are at risk from fire need to be identified. They include the service users and the working staff. It should also be considered who else may be at risk, for example, visitors, contractors etc. Staff who work in isolated areas, for example contractors overseeing maintenance works should be taken into account. Other people at risk include children and visitors who are elderly with limited abilities. As regards the service users, their conditions must be accurately taken into account, for example, those impaired due to medication, those who will need their mobility equipment and level of sensory and cognitive awareness.
- Evaluate, remove and reduce and protect those at risk
The risk of a fire starting should be evaluated. This will include whether accidental, by omission or deliberate. An example of ‘by omission’ could be where electrical equipment is not properly maintained. The premises should also be examined for accidents ‘waiting to happen’. Fire can spread by convection, conduction and radiation. Convection is the movement of fire through air, whilst conduction is the movement of fire through materials. The sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen should be reduced to what is practical or completely removed if possible. Fire protection measures should be put in place such as warning systems. Escape routes should not be blocked and staff should be fully trained in emergency procedures.
- Record, plan, inform, instruct and train
The care home providers should be able to satisfy the enforcing authority. Keeping records, having a detailed risk assessment plan, controlling those risks and training staff will result in the adequate control of the risks in case of fire.
One should review the risk assessment periodically or as appropriate. If there are new changes introduced into the care home, these factors should now be part of the risk assessment.