Careful fire safety planning required for aged care facilities

Careful fire safety planning required for aged care facilities from Wormald

By: Wormald  02-Nov-2012
Keywords: Aged Care, Fire Protection, Aged Care Facilities

With the recent announcement by the NSW government that sprinkler systems will become mandatory in NSW nursing homes, fire safety in aged care facilities is a becoming a topical issue. With infirm and often immobile residents, as well supporting intricate medical equipment housed in such facilities, fire protection in the aged care sector requires both careful planning and technical knowledge. Inadequate or improper fire protection can expose residents and staff to dangers, lead to potential injury or worse case, loss of life. Although it is not always possible to prevent a fire, aged care facility managers must be adequately prepared. They should be fully aware of any fire risks on site, actively work towards minimising these risks and provide fire protection equipment and systems, in accordance with the relevant legislation and Standards. Design, installation, maintenance and technical support are all key components of an effective fire protection solution. Consideration should be given not only to the levels of fire protection required but also to compliance, usability, logistics and the financial investment involved. When developing a fire protection solution for an aged care facility, fire protection specialists will consult with a variety of personnel including facility management and staff. This will help them gain an understanding of the needs and fire hazards specific to the facility and develop the most appropriate solution to suit the subsequent fire risks. Fire sprinkler systems can protect general areas within the facility while more specialised kitchen fire suppression systems can be installed where cooking facilities and equipment are situated. Fire protection specialists should work with management to ensure any identified fire hazards are minimised through routine maintenance and inspections. The facility should also undertake an annual building review and regular equipment and system checks. Fire safety equipment and solutions in aged care facilities should be installed and maintained in accordance with relevant legislation and Standards. While a fire protection specialist can assist in providing this information, it is advisable that every facility manager is aware of what is applicable to their individual facility. The Commonwealth Aged Care Act 1997 provides a framework for residential aged care, combining several elements such as accreditation and building certification to promote a high standard of accommodation for the recipients of aged care services. Aged care facilities must be accredited under the Accreditation Standards for Residential Aged Care1. According to the Standard, management must minimise fire, security and emergency risks and ensure a safe and comfortable environment for residents, visitors and staff. The Department of Human Services (NSW), Ageing Disability and Home Care has developed a useful fire safety guide for service providers which includes details of relevant NSW legislation, Standards and Codes including the National Construction Code (incorporating the Building Code of Australia), and the Australian Standard, AS4083 Planning for Emergencies. Fire protection solutions can be custom designed to match the specific needs and budgets of individual aged care facilities. These solutions could encompass a combination of fire protection products/systems such as fire detection and occupant warning systems, fire sprinkler systems and portable fire equipment such as fire hose reels, fire blankets and fire extinguishers. Fire safety training is also extremely important as it can help ensure that staff and occupants are aware of the building’s emergency management and evacuation plan and procedures. In the event of a fire, elderly and immobile residents will require special assistance to evacuate the building. Having trained staff that are proficient in evacuation procedures will provide the best possibility for this to happen in a methodical and efficient manner.

Keywords: Aged Care, Aged Care Facilities, Fire Protection

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