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Careful fire safety planning required for aged care facilities

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Fire protection systems and services specialist, Wormald emphasises the need for better fire safety planning at aged care facilities.

The NSW government recently announced that sprinkler systems will become mandatory in all NSW nursing homes.

Fire protection in the aged care sector requires both careful planning and technical knowledge, given the need to safeguard infirm and often immobile residents as well as protect intricate medical equipment housed in such facilities. Inadequate or improper fire protection can expose residents and staff to dangers, leading to potential injury or loss of life.

Although it is not always possible to prevent a fire, aged care facility managers must be adequately prepared by being fully aware of fire risks on site, minimising these risks and providing appropriate fire protection equipment and systems, in accordance with the relevant legislation and standards.

When developing a fire protection solution for an aged care facility, fire protection specialists will consult with a variety of personnel including facility management and staff to help gain an understanding of the needs and fire hazards specific to the facility, and develop the most appropriate solution to suit the subsequent fire risks. Fire sprinkler systems can protect general areas within the facility while more specialised fire suppression systems can be installed where cooking facilities and equipment are situated.

The facility should also undertake an annual building review as well as ensure regular equipment maintenance and system checks to minimise risk of fire from identified hazards.

Fire safety equipment and solutions in aged care facilities should be installed and maintained in accordance with compliance requirements.

The Commonwealth Aged Care Act 1997 provides a framework for residential aged care, combining several elements such as accreditation and building certification to promote a high standard of accommodation for the recipients of aged care services. Aged care facilities must be accredited under the Accreditation Standards for Residential Aged Care, according to which, management must minimise fire, security and emergency risks and ensure a safe and comfortable environment for residents, visitors and staff.

The Department of Human Services (NSW), Ageing Disability and Home Care has developed a useful fire safety guide for service providers, which gives details of relevant NSW legislation, Standards and Codes including the National Construction Code (incorporating the Building Code of Australia), and the Australian Standard, AS4083 Planning for Emergencies.

Fire protection solutions can be custom designed to match the specific needs and budgets of individual aged care facilities, and may include a combination of fire protection products/systems such as fire detection and occupant warning systems, fire sprinkler systems and portable fire equipment such as fire hose reels, fire blankets and fire extinguishers. Fire safety training will also help ensure that staff and occupants are aware of the building’s emergency management and evacuation plan and procedures.

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