Fire safety guidance for care homes

The guidance aims to assist those who have responsibility under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 for ensuring fire safety in care homes in Scotland.



1. In 2006, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) introduced changes to fire safety law in Scotland and repealed previous fire safety legislation. This guide has been produced to assist those who have responsibility under this Act for ensuring fire safety in care homes in Scotland.

2. Reducing the risk from fire is an important and fundamental duty in a care home. Fatalities have occurred in fires in premises providing residential care, most notably the fire at Rosepark Care Home in 2004, when a short, rapidly developing fire originated in a cupboard on a bedroom corridor. Inhalation of smoke and toxic gases claimed the lives of 14 residents. This demonstrates the serious risk that fire poses to the occupants of care homes, the tragic consequences which may occur, and the importance of management of fire safety.

3. This guide, prepared by the Scottish Government, is one in a series of guidance documents offering fire safety advice for different types of premises. It supersedes the February 2008 version of Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Care Homes. There are a substantial number of editorial changes in the revision aimed at improving dutyholders' understanding of the guidance - these changes take account of the results of a public consultation on the content of the guidance.


4. The guidance in this document is applicable to general fire safety in existing premises in which a care home service is provided (as defined in the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010). These are care homes which provide a service for the following categories of resident:

  • Older people;
  • Children and young people;
  • People with learning disabilities;
  • People with drug and alcohol problems;
  • People with mental health problems; and
  • People with physical and sensory impairment.

5. Generally, care homes comprising either a ground floor, ground and first floor or ground, first and second floor, will fall within the scope of this guide. However, the benchmarks in this guide are unlikely to be appropriate for very small premises, registered as care homes, that are akin to dwellings and which may have only one or two residents[1].

6. This guide applies to existing premises and is not a design guide for new build. All new residential care buildings must be designed to the mandatory standards under the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004. Similarly, buildings which undergo extension, structural alteration or change of use should also meet the standards (and be subject to building warrant approval, where required). Guidance on design and construction in respect of building regulations is contained in the Scottish Building Standards Technical Handbook for Non‑Domestic Buildings.


7. Part 3 of the 2005 Act, along with the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006, sets out the fire safety duties in respect of the majority of non-domestic premises in Scotland. The legislation requires the provision of fire safety measures; this includes risk reduction, means of fire warning, fire-fighting, escape, staff training and instruction, as well as emergency procedures.

8. The legislation applies in respect of care homes; it sets out fire safety responsibilities and seeks to ensure the safety of persons (whether they are employees, residents, visitors or others) from harm caused by fire.

9. The legal duties which are imposed by the legislation can be considered in terms of the following general requirements. The list is a summary of requirements under the legislation and is not intended to be comprehensive; anyone in doubt about their legal obligations may wish to seek further advice. Guidance on complying with these general requirements is considered in more detail in the remaining chapters:

  • Assessing the risk from fire in respect of the premises;
  • Identifying the fire safety measures necessary as a result of the assessment of risk;
  • Implementing these fire safety measures, using risk reduction principles;
  • Putting in place fire safety arrangements for the ongoing control and review of the fire safety measures;
  • Complying additionally with the specific requirements of the fire safety regulations;
  • Keeping the fire safety risk assessment and outcome under review; and
  • Record keeping.

10. The general fire safety provisions in Part 3 of the 2005 Act take precedence over other legislation. Section 71 of the Act makes it clear that terms, conditions or restrictions in licences - including statutory certification or registration schemes - have no effect if they relate to fire safety requirements or prohibitions which are, or could be, imposed under Part 3.

Who must comply with these duties?

11. The responsibility for complying with the fire safety duties in a care home sits with the employer and other persons who operate or have control of the premises to any extent, including managers, owners and staff. Contractors and volunteers working on site may also have some responsibilities. In this guide, persons with fire safety responsibilities are referred to generally as 'dutyholders'.

12. Under fire safety law, dutyholders are required to take all reasonable measures regarding the safety of persons. Employers additionally have a specific obligation to ensure the safety of employees in the event of fire, so far as is reasonably practicable. This means that the effort, expense and any other disadvantages associated with the provision of fire safety measures need only be proportionate to the fire risk. Where premises or responsibilities are shared, each employer, owner or other person who has control over any part of the premises is required to co-operate and co-ordinate in respect of complying with fire safety law and to inform each other of risks.

External assistance

13. The responsibility for assessing the risk from fire in premises and taking fire safety measures, sits with dutyholders. Fire safety may be dealt with by the care home operator and their staff. Large care home operators may have specialist in-house advisers. However, where resources or expertise is insufficient to match the complexity of the situation, care providers may wish to engage an external fire safety consultant who has a greater depth of understanding of the issues and an ability to judge and solve problems and to assess the level of risk.

14. In care homes with high dependency residents, care providers with no specialist in-house expertise on fire safety are likely to need external specialist advice to assist with an initial fire safety risk assessment.

15. It can be difficult to judge the competence of companies and persons who advertise their services as fire risk assessors. The fact that a person or company is operating in the fire sector or that someone has previous fire service experience, does not mean that they are a competent fire safety specialist.

16. Where dutyholders seek external assistance, they should satisfy themselves with the credentials of external consultants. The quality assurance of fire safety consultants is a developing area and readers should check for relevant guidance, including on the Scottish Government FireLaw web pages.

17. External consultants are accountable under the legislation when, for example, they undertake fire safety risk assessment. Even where external assistance is used, the care home management remain legally responsible and accountable for fire safety in the premises.

Who enforces the fire safety law?

18. While the responsibility for compliance with the legislation sits principally with the persons who operate and work in care homes, there is provision in the legislation for an enforcing authority with enforcement powers.

19. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) enforce Part 3 of the 2005 Act and relevant regulations in respect of care homes. Enforcement officers' powers are listed in section 62 of the Act: they may do anything necessary to allow them to enforce the provisions of the legislation. This includes entering premises, inspecting, requesting information, records or assistance, copying or removing documents; carrying out measurements or tests; taking samples, dismantling articles, and taking possession of an article for examination or evidence.

20. If the SFRS is not satisfied with the outcome of a dutyholder's assessment of fire risk in the premises, the action taken by a dutyholder, or the fire safety measures in place, it may deal with this informally or formally.

21. The SFRS may send out an informal letter which requests or specifies that certain action or measures be taken and may request that a dutyholder draws up an action plan for implementation of the measures. This informal letter may be called a 'notification of deficiencies'.

22. The SFRS has the power to take formal action in certain situations. This could involve:

  • The issuing of an 'Enforcement Notice' that requires specified action to be taken;
  • The issuing of a 'Prohibition Notice' in cases of serious risk so that the use of all or part of the premises is restricted until specified matters are remedied; or
  • Reporting the matter for prosecution (failure to comply with a notice issued by the enforcing authority or placing persons at risk of death or serious injury by failing to carry out any duty imposed by fire safety law is an offence).

23. Additionally, the SFRS has power to issue an 'Alterations Notice' that requires the recipient to inform the enforcing authority before making specified changes to the premises.

24. Where there is disagreement between a dutyholder and the SFRS on compliance issues, the dispute may be suitable for referral for a determination. Dispute determination is a third party independent arbitration arrangement. Information on this provision is available on the web pages of the Fire Service Inspectorate at

25. There is also a right of appeal to the court against a Prohibition Notice, Enforcement Notice or Alterations Notice, within a short timescale from the date the notice is issued.

26. SFRS crews may also visit premises to gain familiarisation with the layout or for tactical planning in case they are called to a fire. The managers of large care homes should have local liaison arrangements with SFRS to facilitate such visits and the exchange of information.

27. While the general fire safety measures required by the 2005 Act are enforced by SFRS, there are some matters that, in care homes, are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive or the local authority under various pieces of health and safety legislation. Some examples are precautions relating to:

  • Storage of flammable liquids;
  • Ventilation systems to dilute or remove flammable gas or vapour;
  • Selecting equipment that will not be a source of ignition; and
  • Maintenance of electrical equipment.


28. The remaining chapters in this guide provide information on the assessment of fire safety risk, the reduction of risk and identification and implementation of fire safety measures.

29. It is not necessary to follow the risk assessment method in this guide; other suitable risk assessment methods can be used.

30. The fire safety standards described in this guide are principally benchmarks. Many of the benchmarks which refer to physical fire precautions are based on the guidance in the Building Standards Technical Handbook that applies to new buildings. When deciding what fire safety measures are appropriate for premises, the benchmarks can be used as a comparison against what exists in the premises.

31. The benchmarks should not be applied prescriptively to premises, they are not minimum standards nor are they provisions that are deemed to satisfy the legislation. In each case, the measures adopted should be risk appropriate for the particular circumstances in which they are applied. A standard lower than the benchmark may be adequate, in other cases a standard above the benchmark may be necessary. The assessment of risk needs to be specific to the individual premises. Decisions on fire safety measures should be based on judgement of risk in the premises.

32. The objective of fire safety law is life safety. Fire safety measures are only necessary where they are required to ensure an acceptable level of life safety. In care homes, there should be recognition of the need to maintain a homely, non‑institutionalised environment, where the residents' quality of life needs to be taken into consideration.

33. If persons feel unable to interpret this guidance, they should seek assistance from someone with sufficient technical knowledge. The SFRS as enforcer of the legislation, cannot undertake a dutyholder's risk assessment obligation. It has a statutory requirement to provide general advice on request about issues relating to fire safety and should be able to provide information and advice which will assist dutyholders to understand their obligations under the law.

34. While the principal purpose of this guide is to assist dutyholders to comply with their legal obligations, its contents constitute guidance given by the Scottish Ministers in terms of section 61(2) of the 2005 Act. The SFRS is therefore required to take it into account in determining whether enforcement action may be necessary.

35. Enforcement officers should not apply the benchmarks in this guide on a prescriptive basis. Where an enforcement officer considers that additional fire safety measures are necessary, decisions should be based on risk, taking likely cost into account. It will assist the awareness of dutyholders if enforcement officers explain why the existing performance is not acceptable, and how the additional measures will deliver improvement.

36. Nothing in this guide should be interpreted as permitting a reduction in the standard of fire safety measures where the measures have been incorporated to comply with Building Regulations. Where a fire safety strategy and fire safety measures have been determined at the building design stage to comply with building regulations, this information should be taken into account to assist in the safe operation of the premises and to inform the assessment of fire risk. It is possible for a standard higher than that required by Building Regulations to be necessary as a consequence of assessment of risk.


Email: Fire and Rescue Division

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