January 30, 2014

Devastating fire could have been avoided

A devastating fire in an elderly residential home in Quebec, Canada has left at least 5 residents dead and 31 unaccounted for.

Investigators are currently searching for the cause of the fire, which occured  on Thursday 23rd January 2014. Recent health department documentation suggests that only part of the building, which was constructed completely of wood, was fitted with a sprinkler system and smoke detectors in every room.  Following this tragic incident the Canadian Government have reportedly stated that they would consider making sprinklers compulsory.

Within the UK and Wales, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 lays down the responsibilities of operators of residential care premises; these responsibilities include:

  • Identifying fire hazards;
  • Implementing  appropriate controls;
  • Managing residual risks;
  • Ensuring staff are trained.

Responsibility predominately rests with the ‘responsible person’.  Within a workplace, this would be the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, for example the owner.

Risk of fire cannot be completely eliminated so measures must be in place to reduce the risk as low as is reasonably practicable.  It is important that there should be sufficient levels of staff to comply with the fire safety strategy for the individual premises.

The fire risk assessment is a valuable document and should cover many areas including;

  • Information on the building (height, size etc.);
  • Information on occupants – Additional Personal Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) may need to be completed for vulnerable and or disabled individuals who would require support in evacuating a building in the event of an emergency;
  • Fire loss experience;
  • Fire hazards and control measures;
  • Management of fire safety policies, procedures, training, drills, testing, maintenance, records:
  • Assessment of risk;
  • Prioritised action plan.

Ultimately the fire risk assessment will assist care home providers in ensuring that their fire safety procedures, fire prevention measures and fire precautions are all in place and working as they should.  Remember the fire risk assessment must be used as a living document, so reviewed regularly and updated as circumstances change.

There are further means that can be adopted which will assist in the efficient management of fire safety:

  • Fire detection and warning systems are used to alert individuals within the premises; they enable them to move away from the fire to an identified place of safety.  There are various types of detection systems available that will suit the use of the premises.
  • There is an obligation that fire fighting equipment is provided; there are also further responsibilities to ensure that the fire fighting equipment is in the correct position and in a satisfactory, serviceable condition.  Furthermore appropriate staff should be trained in the use of the allocated fire fighting equipment.
  • Emergency exit routes and exits are to lead to a place of safety by evacuating persons quickly and safely.  There is to be at least two exits which are independent of each other and the final exit doors must open in the direction of travel with no key required to open.  In addition doors leading onto protected escape routes must be fire resisting and self-closing.  Specially adopted solutions may be required for dependant individuals.
  • Emergency escape lighting is used to illuminate escape routes and in some instances further safety equipment.  The type of emergency escape lighting required will depend upon the size and type of premises as well as the risk to the occupants.
  • Escape signs should be clearly visible whenever the public, staff and contractors are present in the premises.  For individuals who may be vulnerable further solutions will be required in order to assist them to a place of safety.
  • Up to date records must be maintained on the maintenance of all fire protection equipment and training.  Records must be kept in a specified place on the premises and available for inspection by representatives from the enforcing authority; records should include:

Details of any insignificant findings from the risk assessment and any action taken;

  • Testing and checking of escape routes;
  • Testing of fire warning systems, including weekly tests and periodic maintenance by a competent person;
  • Recording of false alarms;
  • Testing and maintenance of emergency escape lighting systems;
  • Testing and maintenance of fire fighting or safety equipment;
  • Recording and training of relevant people and fire evacuation drills;
  • Planning, organising, policy and implantation, monitoring, audit and review.

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