Common Fire Hazards for the Healthcare Industry
Fire safety is equally as important in healthcare facilities, especially due to the number of potentially vulnerable people that may be at risk on the premises, whether a hospital, care home or medical practice of any kind. With the likelihood of many patients struggling with mobility, evacuation procedures become more complex, and being able to understand what the common hazards might be in these environments becomes all the more important.
As dictated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, a designated “responsible person” on each premises or within each organisation is charged with carrying out a full and detailed fire risk assessment at the property. Part of this assessment entails the careful highlighting (and rectifying) of anything that may be deemed a fire hazard – whether it is something that has the potential to cause a fire, or an obstacle that may obstruct evacuation.
Within the healthcare industry, this person’s role is all the more important, due to the sensitive nature of the environment, as mentioned above.
With the prevalence of electrical equipment on the premises of many healthcare facilities, the potential for fires breaking out through faulty or overworked sockets, cables and the like is high.
Kitchen facilities, too, are a constant threat – particularly in care home environments where ongoing, round-the-clock care is provided for a large number of people. Cooking fats, electrical ovens, hobs or toasters, open flames and more are all potential hazards.
Surprisingly for healthcare environments, cigarette smoking is still a common hazard. Despite all smoking now taking place outdoors, any open flame presents a risk – especially when coming into contact with flammable materials on site.
Less common, but equally dangerous, are fires caused by specialised medical and surgical equipment. Laser and electrosurgical tools provide a genuine ignition hazard, while compressed oxygen tanks, surgical clothing and flammable sterilising/disinfecting liquids are perfect fuel.
As part of the fire risk assessment that law dictates must be carried out on the premises, steps must be taken to remove any hazards that are identified.
In respect to the risks mentioned above, this involves ensuring that all electrical equipment is well maintained and checked regularly, with annual PAT testing a necessity. Plug sockets should not be overloaded, particularly by energy intensive medical machinery, and all visibly damaged plugs and cables should be replaced immediately.
Keeping all smoking areas well away from the main building and clearly signposted is also vital. Make sure there are no potential fuels in the area, such as refuse collections or oxygen tanks, and that ash trays are plentiful and emptied regularly.
In respect to kitchen areas, enforcing regular and thorough cleaning is essential. A buildup of grease and dust in ventilation equipment is a common cause of kitchen fires, and with high use catering environments in care homes and hospitals, this becomes an even greater risk. Appropriate fire fighting equipment, such as fire blankets and extinguishers that are suitable for fires caused by oils and cooking fats, should be present and well maintained at all times.
The sensitive nature of healthcare environments means that fire detection and suppression is of high priority. A fire within a hospital where patients are receiving vital treatments is a serious threat to life, and evacuation procedures become far more complex when mobility is an issue for many. This makes the removal of fire hazards even more important, and could result in the need for more regular assessments of the risks present on the premises than might be necessary in other industries.