Care home residents still face the same risks they did pre-pandemic, from a variety of factors such as fire and power outages, it’s just that now, any and all visitors to their buildings represent a substantial risk of contamination. So, continuing to install, maintain and inspect life safety systems such as fire detection and emergency lighting in line with legislation and industry guidelines has become a real test for both installers and care home management alike, who have had no choice but to adapt almost overnight.
Take fire and evacuation drills for example, they are a vital part of any fire safety strategy, but they encourage people to gather together, which is a challenge in the current climate. To combat this, many teams are turning their drills into desktop training sessions where certain scenarios are set, and staff have to describe the actions they’d take.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the responsible person is required to – following a risk assessment – implement appropriate fire safety measures to minimise the risk to life from fire, and to keep the assessment up to date. However, within the industry, there is often confusion around how a responsible person is defined. Looking at the legislation, it’s officially the CEO but typically it’s down to managers to make sure remedial work from assessments are carried out.
By law, risk assessment and method statements (RAMs) must be updated regularly, and so care home staff have had no choice but to continue providing these but have had to alter their approach. Now it’s becoming common place to set up virtual appointments via video calls between maintenance staff and care home managers to entirely negate site visits.
When an on-site visit by an engineer can’t be avoided, care homes and installation companies are working together to try to minimise time on site and mitigate any chance of cross-infections. Strict pre-booking, arrival announcement calls by the engineer from their vehicles and even residents being temporarily relocated from their rooms during service calls are all new methods designed to cut down contact between the vulnerable and outside contractors.
It’s not just a new approach to people and processes that can make a difference in care homes operating in a Covid world. Adoption of new technologies in life safety can also have a massively positive effect. Take hybrid wireless systems such as Hochiki’s Ekho for instance. The fact that these systems can be pre-configured off-site reduces installation time, minimising the time installers need to spend in the property. The self-configuring, self-healing networks afforded by the new generation of wireless fire detection systems offer a robust, low-maintenance solution.
Another challenging consideration when providing life safety systems to the care sector is the fact that many residents have poor eyesight, mobility issues, are hard of hearing or living with dementia – all adding to the complexity of ensuring systems are appropriately designed to warn and evacuate effectively but causing as little distress to these vulnerable residents as possible.
So Visual Alarm Devices – or VADs – complying to BS EN54-23 are essential in locations where visual rather than audible alarms will be considered to be the primary source of warning to building occupants.
Fire Alarm Control panels, such as Hochiki’s Latitude platform can provide two key features well suited for the care home environment. A programmed phased evacuation approach in the event of an incident helps to control the evacuation process and minimise confusion and chaos – a must when dealing with people who may not have any comprehension of the danger they’re facing.
And investigation delays can be set to give staff a few minutes to respond to an pre-alarm condition, investigating and verifying the cause before the fire brigade is alerted.
Cause and effect programming in multi-sensors such as our ACD multi-sensor with CO detection can also help, particularly with common causes of false alarms such as burnt toast. You can program a multi-sensor to provide an initial alert at the fire control panel to inform the management that there is smoke present from data received from the optical smoke chamber and then, while also monitoring for the presence of heat for the multi-sensors thermistors, begin to determine whether it’s a real fire and whether a full alarm condition should be initiated.
When considering the frailty of some care home residents, unnecessary evacuations due to false alarms are not just distressing but can be really dangerous. In our opinion, the only real solution here is for system designers and installers to ensure they build systems based on certified and approved products and once installed these systems are supported by regular, planned preventative maintenance programmes which extend the life expectancy of equipment.
The latest emergency lighting systems are intelligent, self-testing and, being LED-based, help to reduce a care home’s energy consumption. LED technology is also long-lasting, meaning products are much more reliable, reducing the chance of failure and reducing maintenance visits as customers using our system FIREscape can testify to.
The majority of fire risks in care homes are at night, when there’s substantially less staff than during the day and it’s dark, which highlights the importance of illuminating the escape routes clearly to minimise confusion – especially when dealing with people with dementia.
In conclusion, we believe the life safety strategy for environments such as care homes for life beyond Covid comes down to a successful initial design, the quality of the products and systems installed and the continual adjustments to the operating procedures by management to operating in a post-pandemic world.
By working with industry experts such as Hochiki and its customers, those within the care sector can rest assured that every possible approach to life safety is readily available to protect residents and staff.