Carers concerned over fire risk

Care homes are believed to be at an alarming risk of a fire, with three in five care home workers admitting to serious concerns according to new research released to launch Fire Door Safety Week (23-29 September).

The study, which was conducted among 1000 current and former care home employees, found that three quarters believe that more could be done to prevent or manage a fire, with three in five workers having reported fire safety concerns – but half (51 per cent) say that unsatisfactory action was taken as a result.

There is also a worrying lack of clarity among care home workers around one of the key lines of defence in the event of a fire: fire doors. Nearly half (47 per cent) said they did not understand the role a fire door has in keeping a fire contained for a specified time, while over eight in 10 (82 per cent) admitted to deliberately keeping a fire door open – defeating its purpose.

Revealing worrying misconceptions over fire door safety, one in five care workers incorrectly believed that painting a regular door with flame proof paint made it a legitimate fire door, and the same proportion stating that the gap between the fire door and door frame doesn’t matter.

Alarmingly, almost three quarters (72 per cent) said they had witnessed or were aware of fire doors being tampered with, including removing the door closer to make doors easier to open. Not only does this make the door closer redundant, when combined with other adjustments it could leave the fire door not fit for purpose in the event of a fire. 

Fire doors placed on the market should withstand fire for 30 minutes and have test evidence to validate this. Respondents said that on average that it would take 25 minutes to evacuate the care home where they worked, with a quarter saying that it would take longer than 30 minutes – highlighting the vital importance of fire doors in holding back fire and smoke for this time

The research marks the start of Fire Door Safety Week, which this year focuses on the role that fire doors play in protecting people while asleep and at their most vulnerable – principally in specialised housing such as care homes, children’s homes and sheltered housing as well as houses in multiple occupation and communal properties.

Helen Hewitt, chief executive of the British Woodworking Federation, which organises Fire Door Safety Week, says: “These highly concerning findings underline how crucial fire safety is, and the fundamental role that fire doors play – especially so in light of recent instances of damaging care home fires which have threatened the lives of residents.

"Evacuation strategies in care homes are very specialised, accounting for the fact that many residents will need assistance. These strategies rely on the ability of fire doors to perform their function in holding back fire and smoke to allow adequate time for rescue.

“We all need to feel protected inside buildings, and especially so when we are asleep. Care homes and other specialised housing provide a living place for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

"The companies and other operators that run and maintain them have a responsibility to ensure their residents’ safety – and as an industry we need to continue to provide our expert support to ensure the correct specification, installation and ongoing maintenance of fire doors. We hope that through raising awareness during Fire Door Safety Week, lives will be saved through a reappraisal of fire doors and safety arrangements in multiple occupancy buildings.”

London Fire Brigade significantly increased its inspection schedule in care homes in London this year following fire safety concerns.

London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner Dan Daly says: “Earlier this year we found that of 177 care homes inspected in London, a third had inadequate or poorly maintained fire doors. These are one of a number of measures that need to be in place to help keep people safe from fire.

“We would urge all care home providers to ensure that they have a proper and up to date fire risk assessment and ensure they know what to do in the event of a fire to help protect some of London’s most vulnerable residents.”

Numerous events and campaign activities are being held throughout this year’s Fire Door Safety Week, which is run by the British Woodworking Federation and supported by a number of agencies, including the Home Office’s National Fire Safety campaign and the National Fire Chief’s Council.

Helen Hewitt says: “Every year, Fire Door Safety Week raises awareness and helps save lives. We need to root out fire doors that are ill-fitted, damaged or poorly maintained and ensure that all buildings are equipped with fire doors that are fit for purpose.”