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fire warden checks fire stafey at care home

Care home fire safety risks and solutions

Fire safety in residential care homes is often a matter of life and death. A robust fire safety plan should be in place not only because you are caring for vulnerable people but also because it's the law – covered by the Fire Safety Order and the Care Act, which is regulated by the Care Quality Commission. If you don't meet these legal obligations, you can go to prison and face an unlimited fine.1

We’re here to help you manage the risk of fire in your care home – here’s what you need to know to keep your staff and your residents safe.

Common fire risks in residential care homes

  • Smoking
    13% of fires in care homes are caused by smoking not being controlled, monitored or smoking materials being disposed of carelessly.
  • Electrical equipment
    Appliances, especially kitchen appliances pose a significant fire risk to care homes. In many cases, electrical items are placed too close to flammable materials.
  • Spread of fire
    Doors being wedged open give the potential for a fire to spread.

Other areas of concern which increase your risk include:

  1. Out-of-date fire management plans.
  2. Plans that are not appropriately personalised – vulnerable peoples' needs change over time.
  3. Lack of practice – fire drills leading to staff who are unprepared.
  4. Inadequate staffing in an emergency – staffing levels don't always support evacuation strategy, especially at night.1

Fire safety essentials for care homes

1. An up-to-date fire risk assessment

Care homes must have a fire risk assessment by law. This will provide a foundation for any fire safety plans and will identify the fire protection measures needed to keep your care home and residents safe. Your fire risk assessment should be reviewed and updated whenever your business goes through significant change or otherwise every 12 months.

2. L1 fire system

To meet fire safety regulations, care homes need to have the highest possible level of cover that a fire alarm system can offer ‒ a ‘L1’ fire alarm system. This system allows staff and residents as much time as possible to evacuate the care home if a fire breaks out.

A L1 system provides automatic detection – such as smoke or heat detectors – in every room in the care home. This can even include some large cupboards.

As well as having a L1 system in place, you will also need to make sure it is serviced at least every 6 months by a qualified fire alarm engineer, and tested weekly.

You can check that you are up-to-date with servicing and testing, by looking at your most recent fire alarm service certificate and your fire log-book.

3. The right fire extinguishers in the right places

It’s important to have the right extinguishers in the right locations to tackle the different types of fire. A further consideration is to make sure that occupants can easily handle the extinguishers on your premises. In a care home, where residents are elderly, it’s important to make sure the extinguishers can be lifted and used by the majority of the people nearby.

Fire extinguishers need to be serviced annually and replaced once they are out-of-date. You can check the date of the most recent service by looking at the service label on your extinguishers.

4. Fully operational fire doors

Good quality fire doors that are in working order will slow down or limit the spread of fire, giving staff time to evacuate themselves and the residents.

Fire doors can be connected to your fire alarm, which means they will automatically close if the fire alarm goes off. These are called ‘magnetic retainers’. If you choose this option, then your fire doors must be tested weekly as part of your fire alarm test, and the doors should always be closed at night.

Another option is a battery-operated system, which does not need to be connected to the fire alarm, but still allows you to keep your fire doors open. Battery-operated systems hold open the doors and then close them automatically when an alarm sounds. This is called an acoustic retainer.

Just be aware that acoustic retainers can’t be used with all fire doors, for example if the door leads onto a staircase that is the only means of escape.

All fire doors must close properly, shutting squarely against the door-stop. They should be visually inspected at least once a quarter and repaired if required. To check if your fire doors have been inspected weekly and/or quarterly, take a look at your fire log-book.

5. Staff trained to evacuate vulnerable residents

Care home staff and fire marshals need general fire training, but even more importantly, everyone should know how to evacuate residents in the case of a fire.

As well as the more standard evacuation procedure (sometimes called ‘simultaneous evacuation’), where everyone leaves the premises immediately upon hearing the alarm, your team also needs ‘horizontal’ evacuation training.
Horizontal evacuation allows for the fact that not all residents may be mobile, or easily able to evacuate themselves.

In this scenario, groups of occupants are moved more gradually from room to room ahead of the fire. This buys time to reach all residents and is why having working fire doors is so important for care homes. Your staff should also be comfortable using evacuation aids, such as evacuation chairs or mattresses. All of this should form part of your regular training and new team members should be trained as soon as possible when they join.

You can check your fire log-book to see when training was last carried out.2


1. london-fire.gov.uk/residential-care-homes 
2. surreyfire.co.uk/fire-safety-in-care-homes