The NHS experienced 1,159 fires on healthcare premises in 2022, putting the lives of patients, staff, and visitors at serious risk - either from the effects of the fire itself, or from disruption to vital procedures.
Ensuring that hospitals and other healthcare settings have the correct fire alarm systems in place is an essential step for protecting the lives of everyone in the area.
By installing appropriate fire alarm systems throughout the buildings, you can make sure that all fires are detected, that everyone on site is alerted to the outbreak, and that staff have enough time to respond to the alert and assist patients in evacuating the premises safely.
Equally, measures must be taken to prevent unwanted fire alarm signals from causing unnecessary disruption to patient care, which can cost lives.
And with some NHS Trusts recording upwards of 500 false alarms per year, healthcare provision is seriously impacted, with life-saving procedures being disrupted and avoidable distress being caused to patients.
In fact, the BS 5839-1:2017 fire protection code of practice now recommends that manual call points in healthcare settings should be fitted with a protective cover to prevent false fire alarms.
The Department of Health has supported this recommendation in its guidance, which notes the importance of ‘initiating measures to prevent false fire alarms and unwanted fire signals’ by providing ‘lift flaps, or lift flaps combined with a local alarm device [which] are sufficient to control the possibility of undesirable actuation by patients.’
Choosing The Appropriate Alarm System For Your Premises
The two main types of fire alarm systems are Conventional and Addressable.
Addressable Alarm Systems are generally preferred in large healthcare facilities - such as hospitals - for several reasons; firstly, Addressable systems can be configured with a two-stage alarm, which gives healthcare staff more time to evacuate high-dependency patients.
Secondly, they allow for rapid identification of the source of the fire, which can aid in effective evacuation and firefighting, thereby reducing risk to patients and minimising damage to the hospital buildings.
Addressable Alarm Systems also help to prevent false alarms, particularly when using an alarm system with multi-sensor detectors.
Setting Up Fire Alarm Systems To Meet Patient Needs
Now that we have established Addressable Fire Alarm Systems are the preferred option for hospital settings, we can consider how they should be configured to best meet the needs of the patients in the premises.
This can involve tailoring the fire alarm system to the following categories of patient:
1) Dependent Patients
While non-ambulant patients (i.e. those who can’t walk about unaided) will recognise the sound of the fire alarm, they will not be able to evacuate the area independently, which can cause concern and confusion.
On these wards, the aim of the fire alarm system should be to alert staff without causing unnecessary distress to patients. This may include using repeater panels in nurse workstations, staff pagers, flashing beacons, or strobes in place of speaker alarms.
2) Very High Dependency Patients
Very high dependency patients may be adversely affected by stress in the event of a fire alarm. In particular, sudden loud noises could potentially be detrimental to their present condition, so should be avoided where possible.
While audible alarm devices should be situated in all areas of the premises, careful positioning should be used to avoid causing unnecessary distress to patients while alerting staff. In areas where patients require assistance to evacuate, healthcare providers should set an audible alarm with a volume between 24 dB(A) and 55 dB(A), or 5 dB(A) above the notional noise level. Sound pressures higher than this should be avoided.
And in areas where audible alarms are unacceptable - such as very high dependency patient access areas, operating theatres, and special care baby units - visual alarm devices or voice alarm systems can be used as an alternative where appropriate.
3) Mental Health Patients
The fire alarm system present in mental health units should be carefully configured to meet the needs of the patient profile.
High sound pressure can present a risk for mental health patients, who may react unpredictably, and in a fashion that is detrimental to evacuation. Loud noises can also cause patients with mental health conditions to experience high levels of anxiety, agitation, or disorientation.
As such, healthcare providers should assess the needs of the patients on the ward and consider using alternative solutions to avoid causing them preventable distress. These may include fire alarm systems that alert staff by using musical output, or by broadcasting a pre-recorded, coded message, for example.
Consider Patient Requirements Carefully
While Addressable Fire Alarm Systems will be the best option for most healthcare settings, careful consideration should be taken during the planning, designing, and installation phases.
The Addressable Fire Alarm Systems should be designed to meet the care needs of patients in each area of the premises, and the fire alarm system providers should always liaise with a medical consultant throughout the design process.
In addition, care should be taken to reduce the risk of false alarms, which can disrupt vital procedures and cause unnecessary patient distress – both of which have highly negative healthcare consequences.
Want to ensure that your hospital has the perfect fire alarm system in place? Contact our expert team!