The LWF Blog

Fire Safety for Healthcare Premises – Fire Alarm System Design – Part 125

April 28, 2020 10:30 am

In LWF’s blog series for healthcare professionals, our aim is to give information on best practice of fire safety in hospitals and other healthcare premises. In part 124, LWF discussed how alarm systems are designed to work specifically in a healthcare environment, and how variances are possible depending upon the type of care given on the premises. In part 125, we consider how dependent patients are affected by the fire alarm.

When a progressive horizontal evacuation system is employed by a healthcare building, the primary purpose of the fire alarm system is to alert staff to the fire so they may put processes into place to protect the patients.

The primary reason for the alarm usually not being sounded loudly in dependent patient-care areas is that the unambulatory and dependent patients will commonly be able to understand the alarm and be unable to evacuate, and such a situation is likely to cause them additional confusion and distress. A negative reaction to the alarm being sounded may make the staff’s job of assisting the dependent patients more difficult.

In the case of mental health patients, the alarm system should be configured to fit the needs of the typical patient profile, although it is generally considered unwise to allow the alarm to sound in the care areas of mental health patients. There is a risk that the high-pressure sound could cause the patients to react in a way which would affect a smooth evacuation.

Alternatives to the usual high-pressure sound given by a fire alarm can be considered for mental health patient areas. The provision of devices which produce a musical output, for instance, would be preferable as they are designed to alert the staff while ensuring minimum disturbance to the patients.

In the case of very high dependency patients, their well-being is partly ensured by consistency of their care and environment. Sudden loud noises can be detrimental to their condition and so while audible alarm devices are necessary in all areas of the premises, careful siting of the devices is advisable to avoid unnecessary disturbance of the patients.

In areas where patients can escape without assistance and in non-patient access areas, the alarm’s audibility should be in line with the guidance given in BS 5839-1.

In Part 126, LWF will continue looking at the use of fire alarms in very high dependency patient areas, before considering system control and information display. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this blog, or wish to discuss your own project with one of our fire engineers, please contact us.

Lawrence Webster Forrest has been working with their clients for over 25 years to produce innovative and exciting building projects. If you would like further information on how LWF and fire strategies could assist you, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.

While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.

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