Earlier this year, private care home provider BUPA received the biggest ever fines in the UK for a serious breach of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
The judgement, at a court in London, saw BUPA Care Services receive a £1.4m fine after a resident died when his clothes set on fire while he was smoking. The resident, Cedric Skyers, was in a wheelchair inside a garden shelter at a BUPA care home at Manley Court, Brockley, when the incident happened. The prosecution explained that his clothes went on fire because a paraffin-based emollient cream had soaked into his clothes, causing them to become flammable. The 69-year-old died in March 2016, although the case only came to court in 2019 following an investigation by the London Fire Brigade. It was concluded earlier this year after the pandemic caused a delay in the proceedings.
BUPA admitted that in Mr Sykes's case, they did not abide by their own policy for users of emollient cream. This was that smokers should have a smoking apron on or be supervised while smoking. But in this case, nothing was done.
Here at FireRite, we would insist that part of the fire training for fire safety officers in care homes include the following:
- making sure all staff understood the risks of using emollient creams
- warning residents using paraffin-based products not to smoke and, if they did, to insist they used precautions, such as a smock or apron
- instructing staff not to leave a resident using paraffin-based products smoking unsupervised
- carrying out an individual smoking risk assessment of the resident as usual with the control measures in place
- fully implementing recommendations and consequential remedial actions identified in the premises fire risk assessment concerning paraffin-based skin medication (i.e. to have processes for managing individual smoking risk assessments)
- ensuring the premises’ Home Manager participated in and completed the company's mandatory fire safety training
Following the case, the London Fire Brigade (LFB)’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Paul Jennings, warned @LondonFire: “Care homes and indeed all organisations should consider their processes around individual risk assessments, and how these are dealt with in the context of the particular environment of the premises in question.”
Mr Jennings went on to say that the incident showed those who had legal responsibility for fire safety in their building – whether as a landlord, property manager, care home provider or any other setting – should ensure they are complying with the law.
The original charges for breaching the Safety Order by BUPA Care Services were:
- Article 9 (requirement to have a suitable and sufficient risk assessment)
- Article 11 (appropriate arrangements for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of preventive and protective measures)
- Article 21 (adequate safety training for employees)
Lawyers for the Care Home had argued that BUPA did not require individual smoking risk assessments for residents who smoked, as such assessments were not capable of being a “general fire precaution.”
This was rejected by the judge, who replied that the care home absolutely required something to be carried out in relation to a smoking risk assessment at the premises, even if a risk assessment for each smoking individual was itself beyond what the Fire Safety Order required.