Government proposal for changes to ADB takes a positive step with sprinkler requirement in care homes
The recent announcement from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on proposed changes to Approved Document B (ADB) of the Building Regulations is welcomed by the BSA as a common sense step to improve fire safety in care homes.
The government is proposing several new updates to ADB including recommendations to mandate sprinklers in care homes, regardless of height, and is inviting responses to the consultation which is open until 17 March 2023.
According to Care Home UK, there are about 17,100 care homes in the UK housing nearly half a million people. Recent figures from the Home Office indicated that for the financial years 2016/17 to 2020/21 there were just over 3100 fire incidents in such homes with 589 people injured as a result of these incidents, and seven people tragically losing their lives.1 The majority of UK care homes have fire alarms and detection systems, the staff have to undergo fire safety training, but the majority of homes do not have sprinkler systems installed.
The vulnerability of care homes is exemplified by one of many incidents. The fire at the New Grange Residential Care Home in Cheshunt in 2017 claimed the lives of two people and the home was substantially damaged. It led to a coroner raising the issue of the lack of fire sprinklers in such buildings as a measure to prevent future deaths. The largest such fire by far was the Beechmere Care Home fire in Crewe in 2019, a building which contained no sprinklers. If the incident commander had not overruled the ‘stay-put’ policy and ordered a full and immediate evacuation of the residents, the outcome of this fire would have had been very different. This fire also raises the question of why elderly people, many of whom need assistance, were housed in a building which was unsprinklered and so vulnerable to fire damage.
Many care home residents are not readily mobile and have difficulty in evacuating unaided. Additionally, due to age or dementia issues, many residents are easily disoriented and confused. During the same time period, financial years 2016/17 to 2020/21, the Home Office statistics2 indicate 203 fire incidents resulted in the need for 368 people to be rescued by the intervention of Fire and Rescue Service personnel. In three of those incidents 25 or more people needed to be rescued. For this reason and given the casualty figures noted earlier, Care Homes are in our opinion higher risk buildings, regardless of height, and should be designed with automatic sprinklers in order to deliver life, health and property benefits.
Fire sprinkler systems are an efficient and effective way to reduce the impact of fire so that when fires start, they are quickly contained and further materials are not involved, minimising damage and fire spread. Sprinkler systems add another layer of protection and make buildings such as care homes resilient to the impact of fire because they automatically control or even put out the fire before the Fire and Rescue Service arrives. This provides a secondary benefit to the wellbeing of staff, residents and relatives knowing there are additional measures in place and reduces the likelihood of care home residents needing to be rehomed.
The BSA has long since advocated for the installation of sprinkler systems in care homes. We welcome the consultation and the proposed amendments to Approved Document B including this mandate that all new care homes are fitted with sprinklers. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to fire safety and the consequences of not doing the right thing can prove tragically fatal. It is time we changed that.
By Iain Cox, Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance
For more information about the BSA visit the www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org