By Chris Bracewell, senior architect at DWA Architects.
The Grenfell Fire disaster has left the Fire Safety Process within design exposed to criticism. Phase 1 of the Government Grenfell Inquiry report was released in October and it focussed heavily on criticism of the London Fire Brigade, particularly their continued application of the ‘stay put’ policy.
In our experience of architecture and design in the care sector, the majority of care homes are planned in order that a variant of the stay put policy, referred to as the ‘Progressive Horizontal Evacuation’, can be operated in an emergency.
Operation of that policy involves moving residents from an area affected by fire or smoke through a fire resisting barrier (compartment) to an adjoining area, where residents can be protected from the immediate dangers of smoke and fire. They then stay put until the associated risks are eliminated, await further evacuation to another refuge or escape via a protected stairway. The process is intended to create sufficient time for all residents, inclusive of non-ambulant and partially ambulant residents, to be evacuated safely and in a timely manner.
The report has now vowed to review this policy under great scrutiny following the Grenfell tragedy, but should care home operators wait for that Government research and guidance in the meantime?
An architect, experienced in care home design and operation, would likely say no to that question. Good initial design coupled with good inspection procedures throughout the construction process would be sufficient to ensure that an operator is presented with a building that has the minimum risk to residents in the event of any emergency and that the stay put policy can therefore still be implemented safely.
Shortcomings identified in the Grenfell Inquiry included a lack of essential safety information and inadequately communicated procedures, however within the care sector, and a pre-requisite of CQC registration, operational documentation already exceeds the requirements for fire safety more than for many other building types, and whilst improvement should always be the goal for any sector, the care home industry’s fire safety and evacuation processes can act as an exemplar across sectors.