Fire safety: the practice manager’s guide to preventing blazes in their practices

Practice Business explore how practice managers, often in charge of fire safety in their practices, can produce a comprehensive risk assessment and empower other employees to be fire conscious

Few of us have been involved in a serious fire, which is why it is very easy to assume it will never happen. It is, therefore, also very easy to let fire risk float to the back of our minds, and to become lackadaisical about risk assessments and fire drills.

However, the number of incidents investigated by the UK fire service is on the rise. Between 2012/13 and 2015/16 there were around half a million incidences. This figure had risen to 573,000 in the year ending June 2019. Many of these investigations are attributable to non-fire events – such as car collisions and medical incidents – but, with the Grenfell tragedy still smouldering in public memory, it is important to remember that no-one is immune to a fire outbreak.

In January 2019 the village of Chiddingford, in Surrey, saw its local GP surgery destroyed by a large fire that broke out in the early hours of the morning. Luckily, no one was harmed – but the community were reported to be devasted by the loss of their family practice, and many had to source alternative arrangements to access the healthcare they needed.

We should all be prepared so that, in the unlikely event a fire such as this does strike medical premises, we can act fast to protect the practice and, most importantly, patients and employees.

Fire and the law

It is a legal requirement that all GP practices adhere to, and are able to demonstrate, the 2006 Fire Safety Order (FSO) on inspection. The Fire Safety Order states that:

  • fire safety in non-domestic properties should be the responsibility of a designated ‘responsible person’;
  • the responsible person must carry out fire risk assessments and put in place appropriate fire safety measures, based on the specific circumstances of their premises;
  • it is to be enforced by periodic inspections or audits by the enforcing authority (usually the fire and rescue authorities).

At GP surgeries the ‘responsible person’ under the FSO who, in effect, is the fire safety manager is usually the practice manager. Practice managers are, therefore, in a unique position to re-evaluate their fire safety procedures to make sure that their practices aren’t skimping on the demands of the FSO.

The key responsibility of the practice FSO responsible person is to carry out a fire risk assessment. , published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, states that:

If you are the responsible person you must carry out a fire risk assessment which must focus on the safety in case of fire of all ‘relevant persons’. It should pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as disabled people, those who you know have special needs, and children, and must include consideration of any dangerous substance liable to be on the premises. Your fire risk assessment will help you identify risks that can be removed or reduced, and to decide the nature and extent of the general fire precautions you need to take.

Your risk assessment should consider all aspects of your GP premises, even if these are out-buildings or spare rooms that are not often in use. As you create or revise your risk assessment, you should take note of:

  • Hazards: anything that has the potential to cause harm and, in this context, increase the severity or likelihood of a fire in your practice;
  • Risk: the chance of that harm occurring.

Focusing on hazards and risks, there are five simple steps to follow when creating an effective risk assessment:

  1. Identify fire hazards: these should include sources of ignition (things that may cause a fire, such as faulty wiring), sources of fuel (things which may stoke a fire should one break out, such as highly flammable medicines), and sources of oxygen (a vital component in the sustenance of fires).
  2. Identify people at risk: this includes anyone who may set foot in the practice, from patients and practice staff, to CQC inspectors, police officers and homeless people. You should also identify your most vulnerable demographic, such as those with disabilities.
  3. Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risk: evaluate the risk of a fire occurring and the risk to people from fire. Next, remove or reduce fire hazards, and remove or reduce the risks to people by improving detection and warning, visibility of escape routes, improving the quality of lighting and making sure all lighting is safe, installing more visible signs and notices and maintaining all the above over time.
  4. Record, plan, inform, instruct and train: record any significant hazard or risk and what has been done to reduce it. Prepare an emergency plan, inform all relevant people of your observations regarding fire safety in your practice, and provide fire training to staff in line with your risk assessment.
  5. Review: keep assessment under review and revise where necessary, or if any new hazards or risks are introduced into your surgery

Once you have a comprehensive, up-to-date risk assessment, you can help improve the awareness of other practice staffs in relation to fire safety measures in the surgery.

For example, all staff should have a fire safety training session and you should perform regular fire drills to ensure staff know fire exits and assembly points. If you are a small, family practice with few new employees, fire drills can be kept to once or twice a year to refresh people. However, if you have a high staff turnover rate, such is often the case in larger or ‘merged’ practices, fire drills should occur more frequently so that new employees are informed and empowered.

For more information and guidance on forming or revising your practice risk assessment, visit the government’s Risk Assessment Guide for Healthcare Premises.

Remember – it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to fire. With a newly beaded eye for spotting fire risks and hazards, you are sure to help protect your practice, your employees and your patients.

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