The news, uncovered by a BBC investigation that 29 care homes in London have been ordered to improve after failing to achieve basic fire safety standards illustrates once more how legislation is failing the most vulnerable in our society.
The elderly and infirm are more likely to suffer from reduced sensory abilities and such impairments can have the following effects:
1. Inability to escape unaided
2. Increased reaction times
3. Reduced movement speeds
4. Greater likelihood of accidental ignition caused by occupants.
In 2010 the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association published a report based on independent research by Arup Fire. It presented a compelling argument for the incorporation of sprinkler protection in residential care premises. Along with a significantly broad group of organisations including insurers and the Fire & Rescue Services, BAFSA had previously lobbied for sprinkler protection for new and refurbished residential care premises. The decision by the DCLG not to adopt this proposal struck many people as perverse.
England & Wales are among the few countries where the fire safety design guidance does not recommend automatic fire suppression in residential care premises. The fire safety guidance documents for Scotland, USA, Hong Kong and Australia all recommend automatic fire suppression and recognise the benefits in terms of fire safety and fire protection.
It is expected that new and refurbished care homes in Wales will be sprinklered…probably from April 2012.
The 2010 report "Sprinklers for Safer Living" concluded that automatic fire suppressions systems are effective in controlling a fire and will provide improved conditions to the residents of the building, particularly beyond the room of fire origin. Key findings were:
- Current fire safety guidance in England and Wales does not address the unique challenges residential care premises present in relation to the increased assistance often required by residents to escape;
- Where residents require assistance it is likely that the evacuation process will take longer. Sprinklers provide benefits to address this risk;
- Research in the USA concluded sprinklers are the single most effective fire protection feature. It also notes that there has never been a multiple death fire in a fully sprinklered nursing home;
- Beyond the room of fire origin, corridors and other rooms remained life tenable and visibility adequate, where sprinklers are provided
- If fire suppression systems are installed, they can assist in reducing the risks from fire, particularly if other fire safety measures fail to act as intended
- The adoption of an automatic fire suppression system within the building is considered a cost effective means of providing an adequate level of safety and can be used to compensate for other areas of design.
Through 'Sprinklers for Safer Living' BAFSA has clearly demonstrated that care homes protected by sprinklers will be legally compliant and more effectively managed as well as offering considerable advantages in flexibility of design and opportunities for cost-savings during construction.
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