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Fire safety for GP practices

Risk assessments, regular checks and staff training are key to ensuring your practice is fire-safe, says Stuart Collyer.

Your GP surgery needs to be made as fire-safe as practically possible, for the benefit of patients and staff. The best way of achieving that is to reduce the risk of a fire starting and to ensure you’re prepared should the worst ever happen.

If your practice is in a rented property, then some of this responsibility will fall to your landlord. For many practices this will be NHS Property Services. Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 landlords are required to carry out fire risk assessments for the premises that they own, and to supply suitable fire detection, prevention and protection equipment.

This includes supplying fire extinguishers and fire blankets, and ensuring all other equipment they provide is professionally maintained and serviced as required.

If the partners in your practice own the building then this responsibility will fall to the practice.

Although some the hard work might be done for you if you are tenant, you will still have your own responsibilities. You should find the specific details of these and management arrangements in your lease agreement and service contract, but this will usually involve performing specific risk assessments and providing any additional equipment that is needed as a result of this.

Complying with fire risk assessments

With a fire risk assessment already carried out of the premises, you will need to ensure you know, understand, and comply with the findings. This could relate to the way medical gases are stored, what particular rooms can and cannot be used for, and restrictions on certain activities.

However, you will still need to carry out your fire risk assessment for the activities, staff, and patients which are specific to your use of the GP surgery.

With a list of the work activities which are carried out, and the equipment used, you should pay particular attention to finding any fire risks that they could cause.

In order to reduce any risks, you may need to have maintenance carried out regularly on equipment or to partner it with a specific fire extinguisher.

Also, take into consideration the people who could be in your practice at the time of a fire, for example the elderly and disabled who are very likely to need help making a safe and swift exit.  As such, you may want to limit the need for patients to go up and down stairs, or to supply an evacuation chair as a way of getting those with mobility issues to safety quickly.

Carrying out regular checks

It is the premises owner’s duty to carry out annual servicing of the fire, gas, and electrical equipment that they provide with the premises, including fire alarms, emergency exit doors and signage. Any other equipment which you provide is your responsibility to ensure it’s maintained as required, and by professionals.

But you should be carrying out your own checks on all equipment, rather than just leaving it until the annual service, because by then it could be too late.

This includes making sure that any equipment is used in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines, not overloading electrical sockets, and keeping the use of extension cables to a minimum. Look for any signs of wear and tear, accidental damage, or tampering.

When it comes to the fire safety equipment, even when you haven’t provided it, you should be carrying out weekly checks. These checks are fairly simple to perform, and are as easy as answering these questions:

  • Is the extinguisher located on the fire point/wall bracket, and not missing or moved?
  • Are there signs that the extinguisher has been used?
  • Are the safety pins and/or tamper seals disturbed, missing or broken?
  • Are there any visual defects, such as dents or leaks?
  • Are they unobstructed, clean and visible, with operating instructions facing outwards?
  • Are indicator gauges (where fitted) in the green?

If you spot any used, damaged or missing fire-related equipment, then you must inform NHSPS straight away.

Train and prepare

You also need to have individuals on the premises who are trained and know what they’re doing in the event of a fire. Training a few staff members as fire wardens is as useful as having first aid training. They can remain calm in an emergency, confident that they’re doing the right things.

It will give them the knowledge to help in promoting good fire safety within the practice on a day-to-day basis and they can help familiarise other staff with evacuation procedures.

Once trained, they can carry out regular fire drills, recommended on a six-monthly basis on a normal business day, to test the action plans to be aware of any issues before it is too late.

All staff will also benefit from receiving basic training in how to use fire extinguishers, as well identifying the people who are most likely to use an evacuation chair, if you provide one.

  • Stuart Collyer is staff writer at Fire Protection Online. For further information about fire safety, visit fireprotectiononline.co.uk

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