Fire safety - existing care homes: practical guidance

Guidance for those who have responsibility under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 for ensuring fire safety in care homes in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection

Chapter 1: Preface


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 In 2006, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 (the ‘2005 Act’) introduced changes to fire safety law in Scotland and repealed previous fire safety legislation.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. In addition, this guide provides statutory guidance for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (‘SFRS’), as an enforcing authority.

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 in 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 Scottish Government guidance provides practical fire safety advice for care homes. It supersedes the previous February 2014 version.


4. This guidance 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.
  • 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. The complementary Practical Fire Safety Guidance for existing specialised housing and similar premises is primarily for those who are responsible for specialised housing and similar premises and for those who provide care and support services in such premises. It also applies to small care homes which have been constructed as domestic dwellings and accommodate only a few residents. It covers both person-centred and premises-based fire safety risk assessment. The person-centred content may also be of interest to readers of this guide.

7. 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 conversion (as defined in building regulations) should also meet the standards (and be subject to building warrant approval, where required). Design guidance in respect of building regulations is contained in the Scottish Building Standards Technical Handbook for Non-Domestic Buildings.

Fire safety law

8. 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.

9. The legislation requires the provision of fire safety measures including risk reduction measures, means of fire warning, fire-fighting, escape, staff training and instruction, as well as emergency procedures. It sets out fire safety responsibilities and seeks to ensure the safety of persons from harm caused by fire.

10. The list below is a summary of the general requirements and is not intended to be comprehensive; the remaining chapters provide guidance on how to comply but anyone in doubt about their legal obligations may wish to seek further advice:

  • Assessing the risk from fire.
  • 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.
  • Record keeping.

11. The general fire safety provisions in Part 3 of the 2005 Act take precedence over other legislation. Section 71 of the Act states 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?

12. Employers and/or other persons who operate or have control of the premises to any extent are responsible for complying with the fire safety duties. This might include managers, owners and staff. Contractors and volunteers working on site may also have some responsibilities through their degree of control or responsibility for fire safety. In this guide, persons with fire safety responsibilities are referred to generally as ‘dutyholders’.

13. 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 fire safety measures need to be taken to address risk, but not to the extent that cost, effort and other disadvantages associated with the provision of fire safety measures would be disproportionate to the risk to life. In this respect a judgement is made about the cost of measures being proportionate to the resulting risk reduction, not the capacity of a dutyholder to pay.

14. Where premises or responsibilities are shared, each employer, owner or other person who has control over any part of the premises must co-operate and co-ordinate to inform each other of risks and comply with fire safety law.

15. Failure to comply with fire safety law may constitute a criminal offence with a penalty of a fine or imprisonment.

Obtaining Advice on Fire Safety

16. The responsibility for undertaking and reviewing fire safety risk assessments, and taking fire safety measures, rests with dutyholders.

17. Whilst dutyholders are usually best placed to know their premises, they will need to decide whether they, or their employees, have the capability to assess fire risk. They should also consider factors such as the size and use of premises and the number and dependency of residents. If dutyholders do not have sufficient resources and skills, knowledge or experience to undertake a fire safety risk assessment themselves, they can arrange for a suitably qualified person or company to carry out an assessment on their behalf.

18. When looking to contract a fire risk assessor, it can be difficult to judge the competence of companies and persons who advertise their services. 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 risk assessor.

19. Using registered or third-party certificated persons or companies to carry out fire safety risk assessments is one way to establish competence. The Scottish Government and SFRS recommend selecting an assessor or company that is third party certificated by a United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accredited Certification Body or an assessor registered with a Professional Registration Scheme. SFRS maintains a list of recommended schemes on its website. SFRS has not assessed and does not endorse any individuals or companies participating in these schemes. Assessor participation in these schemes can offer a degree of assurance that the assessor (individual or company) has met the professional requirements. In selecting a fire risk assessor, their competence in assessing care homes should also be checked.

Who enforces fire safety law?

20. While responsibility for compliance with the legislation sits with dutyholders, there is provision in the legislation for an enforcing authority with enforcement powers.

21. The SFRS enforce Part 3 of the 2005 Act and relevant regulations for care homes.

22. 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 relevant 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.

23. If the SFRS is not satisfied with the outcome of a dutyholder’s assessment of fire risk, the action taken by a dutyholder, or the fire safety measures in place, it may issue a 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.

24. Where an enforcement officer considers that additional fire safety measures are necessary in relevant premises, this decision should be based on the factors described in paragraph 13. It will assist the awareness of dutyholders if enforcement officers explain why the existing fire safety measures are not acceptable, and how additional fire safety measures will deliver improvement.

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

  • Issuing an ‘Enforcement Notice’ that requires specified action to be taken.
  • Issuing 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
  • Reporting the matter for prosecution.

26. 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.

27. 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.

28. 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. Further information is available on the Fire Service Inspectorate website: HM Fire Service Inspectorate: dispute determination - (

29. 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.

30. 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.

31. 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.
  • Maintenance of electrical equipment.

How to use this guide

32. The remaining chapters in this guide provide information on the assessment of fire risk, the reduction of risk and identification and implementation of fire safety measures. It is not necessary to follow the risk assessment method in this guide or the fire safety measures; other suitable risk assessment methods and measures may be appropriate.

33. The fire safety measures described in this guide are principally benchmarks. When deciding what fire safety measures are appropriate for premises, the benchmarks can be used as a comparison against what exists in the premises. 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.

34. 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.

35. 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. However, 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.

36. While the principal purpose of this guide is to assist dutyholders to comply with their legal obligations, its contents constitute guidance given by 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. The SFRS is also required to have regard to the Scottish Regulators’ Strategic Code of Practice.

37. 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. It is possible for a fire safety risk assessment to require a standard higher than that required by Building Regulations.

38. From October 2013, a Fire Safety Design Summary is recorded as part of the building regulation process. This may be a useful source of information to assist dutyholders with the safe operation of the premises and to inform the assessment of fire risk.



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