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The importance of Fire Risk Management systems within Scotland’s Care Homes

Graham McMillan outlines why those managing care homes in Scotland should formalise their system of fire risk management.

There are approximately 1,249 care homes for adults in Scotland providing accommodation to 36,751 residents. We have a moral and legal obligation to reduce the risk from fire, and potential injury or death due to a fire occurring in premises.

Care Homes often pose a special set of problems due to the nature of the residents. There are approximately 902 care homes for older people (those aged 65 or over). When cross referencing national fire statistics we know those over the age of 65 are more vulnerable because more than half the fatality victims during the period April 2013 and March 2014 were aged over 65 years and the risk of dying for the over 80’s is more than four times the average.

Many homes accommodate residents who will require assistance, and in some cases considerable assistance due to infirmity, lack of mobility, impaired awareness and/or lack of understanding. In Scotland 53% of long stay residents in care homes for older people have a formal diagnosis of Dementia. Elderly & infirm persons are also particularly susceptible to the effects of smoke and toxic gases produced in a fire.

In 2006, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 introduced changes to fire safety law in Scotland and repealed previous Fire Safety Legislation. This legislation sets out fire safety responsibilities to ensure the safety of persons (employees, residents, visitors or others) from harm caused by fire.

The responsibility for complying with the Fire Safety duties rests with the employer and any other person who operates or has control of the premises to any extent. This includes managers, owners & staff. The majority of care homes for adults, 711 (57 per cent), are run by the private sector, 353 (28 per cent) are run by the voluntary sector and 185 (15 per cent) are run by local authorities or NHS Boards.

We cannot over emphasise the importance of an adequate system of fire risk management in Care Homes.
Regardless of whether a Care Home is run by a private or public sector organisation, a written Fire Risk Assessment is a legal requirement.

This will assess the premises, identify risk to persons from fire and any shortfalls will be annotated in an Action Plan. The aim is to ensure the safety of persons in the event of fire whilst at the same time enabling compliance with the relevant legislation. Duty Holders can undertake the Fire Risk Assessment however the person carrying out the Fire Risk Assessment should be a competent person (person has sufficient training, experience or knowledge for the task).

There is a national competency standard for fire risk assessors and a guide to choosing a competent fire risk assessor which have been published by the Fire Sector Federation. These documents point towards a UKAS accredited third party certification scheme as one means of demonstrating competency. One such scheme, FRACS is widely believed to be the most robust and is run by Warrington Certification.

We cannot over emphasise the importance of an adequate system of fire risk management in Care Homes. Following the fatal fire at Rose Park which sadly took the lives of fourteen elderly residents, the inquiry concluded that ’The deficiencies in the management of fire safety at Rosepark contributed to the deaths in that a number of key circumstances would have been quite different if there had been AN ADEQUATE SYSTEM OF FIRE SAFETY MANAGEMENT’.

But what is an ‘adequate system of fire safety management?’BB7 are the principle authors of British Standards Publication, PAS 7: 2013 – Fire Risk Management System Specification. This national guidance sets out internationally recognised management system requirements, which, if implemented will ensure an enhanced system of management prevails.

UKAS announced its intention to implement a pilot programme to establish an accreditation procedure for certification of fire risk management systems to PAS 7: 2013 – Fire Risk Management System Specification on 31st July 2015.

BB7 have long been working for a more resilient Scotland and are now offering a free GAP analysis against the standard for Care Homes in Scotland. We hope to see the first Scottish Fire Risk Management System Certificated in the near future.

Graham McMillan
Fire Consultant for and on behalf of BB7
GIFireE, DipHE