Identifying breaches Fire risk assessment, in the majority of cases, does not extend to inspecting the integrity of the fire compartments. Fire compartmentation can be easily ignored as high risk areas are often hidden above false ceilings, ducts and risers. Even the most competent person may not have the skills and expertise to ensure the integrity of the compartmentation, meaning the risk of fire spreading can go unknown for months, if not years, often until it is too late.

Inspections of fire compartmentation should include checking whether any damage has been caused by services that have been added since the building was completed, such as cabling or IT systems, or other building work to the walls, floors or ceilings. This could compromise the integrity of the fire compartment. Fire doors are an important part of ensuring fire compartmentation is maintained too, but they are often not subject to sufficiently rigorous or regular inspections. Again, this could lead to a breach of fire compartmentation, for example, if the fire seals are broken, the door closers are not working properly or the ironmongery has become worn or the glazing detached. They should be inspected every six months.

Stay-put policy

In many hospitals and multi-occupancy buildings, there is a Stay Put policy in place, as these buildings are designed to retain a fire within a compartment. The greatest risk of death is, obviously, to those in the room in which the fire starts.

In a healthcare environment there is a very clear need for a person-centred approach, which is tailor-made for each patient who is vulnerable. The most significant influences on fire risk in healthcare are advanced age, disability, dementia and mental health problems. 30 minutes’ fire protection, for example, which is offered by a standard fire door, would, in most cases, be

Research shows that in general, compartmentation and fire protection of escape routes are successful in terms of containing fire

insufficient in a healthcare environment. Research shows that in general, compartmentation and fire protection of escape routes are successful in containing fire. In the last 10 years there have been very few cases where residents of a hospital have died as a result of a fire in another room. However, since the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, many healthcare providers are looking into increasing fire detection methods and even introducing sprinklers within a building in order to keep the fire risk to a minimum.

Assessing the risks

Firecode: HTM 05-02 provides specific guidance on fire safety in the design of new healthcare premises and major new extensions to existing healthcare premises. The standards on which it is based recognise that fire safety in healthcare is dependent on the interaction between physical fire precautions, the dependency of the patient, fire hazards and the availability of trained staff to evacuate patients safely in a fire emergency. While getting this right at specification stage is essential, as outlined, ongoing inspection and maintenance of fire compartmentation is vital. What is widely accepted is that when fire compartmentation is regularly inspected and well maintained, there is no better form of fire protection.

Richard Sutton is the general manager at Horbury Property Services


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