Fire safety failures in over half of care homes audited in new London Fire Brigade report

Serious fire safety failures have been found in care homes across London by Brigade inspectors.

London Fire Brigade carried out a detailed inspection of 177 properties in late 2018; these inspections identified a number of fire safety failures and 57% of the care homes inspected received a formal notification from London Fire Brigade to address these issues.

The 177 care homes were visited to gauge the level of fire risk across the capital in a one-off series of in-depth inspections. The Brigade’s findings included the following serious fire safety breaches:

• One in three premises with inadequate or poorly maintained fire doors
• Widespread confusion about fire evacuation strategies
• Fire risk assessments being carried out by people without the proper skills and experience
• Roofs being omitted from fire risk assessments (roof voids often increase the spread and severity of a fire)

In 45% of the 177 care homes the fire risk assessment was found to be not suitable or not sufficiently comprehensive. Many fire risk assessments were found to have been carried out by in-house managers and demonstrated a lack of understanding or information about basic fire safety principles. However, it was also worrying that some which had been done by a Fire Risk Assessor did not always clearly and sufficiently cover the issues of evacuation strategy and numbers of staff required in a comprehensive way.

In 14% of the 177 care homes inspected there was evidence of poor emergency planning, or a potential lack of staff to implement the plan. There was evidence of confusion in the documentation, or among managers and staff, over the premises emergency plan. There were also some cases of ‘generic evacuation strategies’, where the care home operator has more than one premises, rather than an emergency plan that is site specific. In these cases it was difficult to align the emergency plan with the staffing levels, actions and responsibilities. There was also evidence in some cases that management misunderstood/underestimated the importance of sufficient staffing levels, particularly during evening/night shifts, in order to carry out a safe evacuation in the event of fire.

In 10% of the 177 care homes there was evidence of inadequate training for staff/managers. Fire safety training was found to be ‘online’ only in some cases, rather than in-house practical training (where evacuation drills may be included). Fire safety training is becoming generic, rather than providing a bespoke package relating to the specific premises a care worker regularly works in. It is further complicated where care workers are also expected to work in more than one care home.

In 14% of the 177 care homes inspected we found evidence of failures relating to their protected escape corridors and 29% had failures relating to fire doors within their premises.

The LFB are so concerned that they have written to every care home in the capital demanding they urgently review their fire risk assessments, emergency plans and staff training. The Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner Dan Daly said: “Over half the care homes we inspected had to make improvements to their fire safety arrangements despite them housing some of London’s most vulnerable residents. Care home owners need to urgently review their fire risk assessments and ensure their staff know how to safely evacuate their residents, especially those who are immobile’.

You can read the Brigades care home audit report, in full, here