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Wozo66

Electrical Fire-Risk in Bathrooms

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Wozo66

As a new Business Fire Safety Inspector , I can't see the wood for the trees.

I have visited various premises recently (predominantly care homes) that have a bathroom which contains an electrically operated, ceiling or floor-mounted hoist with rechargeable 12 volt  batteries that opens onto a protected corridor with bedrooms in the immediate vicinity.

The guidance documents I have read suggest that bathrooms are low risk and therefore do not require a fire door (intumescent strips and seals fitting, fire-rated door closer etc.).

I would like to know if there is any best practice, case history or simply an individual's thought process which will help me get a grasp of whether a bathroom containing such electrical equipment should be protected, or not?

I have carried out some research but cannot locate anything which will help me decide one way or the other?

Many thanks for any help or advice

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Messyshaw

Hiya Wozo66

I am sorry, I haven't done any care homes for 15 years so am out of touch with current guides. But I have been heavily involved with mental health units and group homes for a while. It may be worth looking at the NHS Firecode suite of documents (Health Technical Memorandums - HTMs) to see if there's up to date guidance there. 

When I am stuck and there's very little guidance around, I try to forensically examine why a particular 'rule' is in place. When you fully understand why its in place, you are in a better place to go solo and introduce your own control measures - as long as you explain your rationale in the FRA or fire strategy. 

It is true, that a traditional bathroom (domestic or commercial) with a cast iron bath, ceramic loo and basin and no electrics other than lighting is very low risk. In the past, bathrooms have been exempt from requiring separation from a sterile corridor in a protected route as in fact, that bathroom has a similar benign fire safety status in terms of fire loading and ignition sources.

I recall a very old guide ( a fire certificate guide I think) said that if a women's bathroom had a sanitary incinerator, then this room should be separated by fire resisting materials and a fire door. This is recognition that where an addition ignition source is present, additional control measures can be justified

Over the years, plastic baths, electrics vent fans and 8kw electric shower units have put a strain on the neutral fire loading status of a bathroom as there's plenty of ignition sources and plenty to burn. Now add hoist & batteries - plus vulnerable persons who may not be able to self rescue - you start to see that enclosing the bathroom in fire resisting material ain't so daft after all.

Fire safety is all about time. detecting the fire early enough so people can begin their escape, holding fire back by fire doors etc to give time for people to escape and by restricting travel distances to cut the time it takes to reach a place of safety or relative safety.

Care homes are hugely complex places.  I might even be brave and say, if you are cutting your fire safety teeth, it might be best to initially avoid places like schools and care homes- but of course, that is your decision.

Now you need to think about the evacuation strategy in this home. Is there progressive horizontal evacuation or any other delayed evacuation system? The separating of the bulling into clear & well maintained compartments is essential. This may require enclosing a bathroom if it opens onto a staircase or corridor with bedrooms. 

I hope someone comes along with some current guidance for you. But do not be afraid of going it alone or even defying guidance, especially when asking for additional safety measures. You are obviously unhappy about what you have found. If, in your professional opinion, you want to enclose a bathroom as the fire loading is above expected norms and you are considering vulnerable people non ambulant - bloody well go for it and do not be put off by owners bleating that the guide doesn't require it. Its a RISK assessment and risk must lead you and not a guide that doesn't fit what you are presented with on the day. 

Have a look at this report from the awful Rosepark tragedy in Scotland to see what can go wrong. There's a useful checklist from P16 you might want to consider

Good luck

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