Practical fire safety for existing specialised housing and similar premises: guidance

Guidance for those who are responsible for specialised housing and for those who provide care and support in such premises.

Part 1: Person-Centred Fire Safety Risk Assessment

Chapter 1: The Person-Centred Fire Safety Risk Assessment

Key Points

  • The person-centred fire safety risk assessment considers how a person’s characteristics, behaviour and capabilities may increase the likelihood of a fire or affect their ability to recognise and respond to a fire or warning of fire.
  • The person-centred approach is key to protecting people at high risk from fire in their own accommodation.
  • The aim of the assessment is to identify whether additional fire safety measures may be required to reduce risk.
  • A suitable person providing the housing, care or support should carry out the assessment.  The most appropriate person to do this will depend on the specific circumstances but may involve sheltered housing scheme managers, care providers or others regularly engaging with the person.
  • The person-centred assessment is strongly recommended as best practice but is not required under fire safety legislation.


29. This Chapter explains how to carry out a person-centred fire safety risk assessment for high risk residents in their own accommodation.  The aim of the assessment is to determine whether additional fire safety measures are required to reduce risk.  It involves an assessment of the risk factors that are specific to the individual and of the fire hazards in a resident’s private accommodation.  

30. This Chapter also provides guidance on some of the main risk factors and hazards to consider.  The person-centred approach is separate to the premises based risk assessment (covered in Chapter 3) but fire safety measures identified in one may impact on the other.

Why a person-centred approach? 

31. The person-centred approach is about recognising the increased risk associated with people who are particularly vulnerable to fire, due to physical, cognitive or mental impairments.  Personal characteristics can increase the likelihood of fire, the severity of the fire and the ability to respond effectively.

32. There are two main ways to reduce risk: by preventing fire (fire prevention) and by reducing the impact that fires have on people (fire protection).

33. Most fires occur within people’s own accommodation.  The greatest risk of death is for those in the room in which the fire starts: they are often directly involved in the fire as their clothing or bedding may be the item first ignited.  Fire prevention is key to reducing this risk and is an important part of the assessment.  Additional fire protection measures may also be required to protect people should a fire occur, particularly if their evacuation is likely to be slow or challenging.

34. The person-centered fire safety risk assessment process involves identifying fire hazards and the potential consequences for the individual in the event of fire.  Where the assessment determines that additional measures are needed to reduce risk, a plan is drawn up which should list the actions required.  The findings of the risk assessment should be shared with all relevant parties, including landlords. 

Engaging with Residents

35. Engagement is integral to a person-centred approach.  This is an opportunity to provide them with core fire safety information and to identify people at risk.  

36. All housing providers, landlords and managing agents should pro-actively engage with residents.  Anyone (care/support, utilities, visitors etc) in contact with residents in their own accommodation should be encouraged to identify and report obvious fire hazards to housing providers (where there is one), as well as bringing them to the resident’s attention.  They should also inform management of any residents who they feel are particularly at risk.

37. It is important that residents are given fire safety advice and support covering: 

Fire Prevention (preventing fires)

  • What the common areas policy requires of them (storage and use). 
  • Clear prohibition on storing and using petrol, bottled gas, paraffin etc.
  • The importance of security to reduce the risk of deliberate fire raising.

Fire Protection (measures which protect people in the event of fire)

  • How to report faults or damage to fire safety measures.
  • Ensuring residents know not to interfere with the fire alarm system, for example to silence the system and the reason for this.
  • Safeguarding communal escape routes, for example, ensuring fire doors self-close properly and are not wedged or otherwise held open. 
  • How to avoid damaging fire protection measures when making changes to their accommodation. 

Fire Procedures 

Fire procedures are an important element of fire safety.  Some people may need to have the evacuation plan explained to them periodically to ensure they understand.  In supported housing, it is often beneficial for residents to take part in practice evacuations (fire drills) to reinforce the procedures.  In sheltered, extra care and general needs flats, residents should understand the principles of a ‘stay put’ policy.  

Fire procedures should cover:

  • Actions residents should take if they discover a fire. 
  • How residents should respond to fire alarm signals in their own accommodation.
  • How to make their way safely from their accommodation and exit the building.

Additionally, in sheltered and extra care housing:

  • How to respond if the fire alarm sounds in the common areas.
  • Whether any limited assistance will be provided in the event of fire (for example, it should be made clear in “welfare packs” if assistance with evacuation is not provided).

38. There are effective ways to inform and educate people on basic fire prevention, including Resident’s handbooks, fire safety leaflets, information on company websites.  Key messages may be reinforced by notices in the building.  In supported housing and small care homes, fire safety information is often best discussed with each resident by care or support workers where they have responsibility for the residents and their accommodation.

39. Annex 1 contains generic fire safety advice for residents.  This may need to be supplemented by person-centred advice, following an assessment.  Annex 2 contains fire action notice templates detailing the actions that residents should take in the event of a fire (these might not be necessary in all supported housing).  

40. Campaigns and initiatives will keep the message fresh. SFRS, in partnership with housing providers and other agencies may contribute.  SFRS also offer free home safety visits and their website has useful information/materials such as Supporting Fire Safety in the Home – A Carers’ Guide.  The guide, combined with the information in Annex 1 and 2, provides succinct advice in an easy read form for vulnerable people and their families and carers.

Steps to a Person-Centred Risk Assessment

41. People at increased risk from fire may be identified by engagement or referral from a concerned party which should trigger a person-centred fire safety risk assessment.  In supported housing, it may be possible to carry out an assessment routinely when a new person moves in, if only a few residents are accommodated.  A blank template is provided in Annex 3.  

42. The assessment should be completed with the individual’s participation.  Where this is not possible it should involve other people who are able to speak for the resident.  

43. There are nine steps to a person-centred risk assessment:

Steps I-III: The Individual 

Consider the person’s;

(I) Characteristics, behaviours and capabilities and how these may  increase the likelihood and harmful consequences of a fire. 

(II) Capacity to respond appropriately to a fire or warning of fire.

(III) Ability to evacuate. 

Step IV Fire Hazards

Identify the potential causes of fire and factors which may cause rapid fire development.

Step V  Fire Prevention

Evaluate existing fire prevention measures.

Step VI Fire Protection

Evaluate existing fire protection measures

Step VII Determine Risk

Determine the level of risk to the resident.

Step VIII Action Plan

Prepare and implement an action plan.

Step IX Review

Review the assessment and plan regularly.

Steps I – III The Individual 

44. It is important to consider the personal risk factors that increase the likelihood of fire and its impact.  Where there is more than one factor present, the risk of harm is significantly increased.  For example, a person that smokes, with the potential to set fire to their clothing and is slow to evacuate without assistance, is at high risk.  

45. People with cognitive issues, sensory impairment or who are affected by alcohol or medication may be more likely to have a fire due to forgetfulness or a lack of awareness while cooking or smoking.  This risk is increased for those who do not recognise danger or are unable to make decisions to respond appropriately to a fire, or a warning of fire. If fire does occur, hoarding and the presence of oxygen cylinders or stored flammable substances can increase the development and severity of the fire.  

46. It is essential that a person can evacuate to a place of relative safety if there is a fire in their private accommodation.  This may involve corridors and stairs.  Each stage of the evacuation needs to be considered.  Physical disabilities and impairments may make self-evacuation difficult.  Some people may require assistance from staff (where present).  If the evacuation strategy does not rely on staff assistance (for example, in sheltered housing or general needs flats), additional fire safety measures, such as automatic fire suppression, can give more time for self-evacuation.  These will be considered further in Step VI.  

47. Children and people with cognitive issues such as autism may respond to a fire by hiding. Staff assisting with evacuation should be alert to quickly checking in wardrobes, under beds and behind furniture where it is safe to do so.  For some, it is often better to give direction in short, clear phrases.  They may take longer to respond because they don't understand the directions or are scared and unable to process instructions. Younger children and people with autism should be accompanied at all times to prevent them wandering off or running away after an evacuation or rescue.

48. In supported housing and small care homes with 24 hour staff, residents may require personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs).  PEEPs should be drafted and agreed with the person, where possible.  These should state if staff assistance is required.  Further guidance on evacuation and PEEPs for people with mobility, hearing, visual and cognitive impairments can be found in the Scottish Government publication “Practical Fire Safety Guidance: The Evacuation of Disabled People from Buildings”.

Step IV Fire Hazards 

49. The next stage is to identify potential causes of fire and factors that may cause rapid fire development.  This includes sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen.  

Sources of Ignition

50. The following are potential sources of ignition: 

  • Smoking and smokers materials.
  • Electrical wiring and appliances, especially if overloaded or damaged.
  • Heating appliances, especially when used in the vicinity of combustible materials.
  • Electric blankets that show signs of age or wear and tear.
  • Cooking, particularly if left unattended.
  • Use of candles, particularly if in unguarded holders and left unattended.


51. Separating combustible materials from potential sources of ignition reduces the likelihood of a fire starting.  For example not leaving tea towels adjacent to a cooker hob or candles in the vicinity of curtains. 

52. Emollient creams containing paraffin based products are used to treat dry skin conditions.  They are highly flammable and actions to reduce their fire risk should be taken.  Smokers, in particular, should be advised of the risk. Creams should be stored securely when not in use.  Emollients applied in large quantities or to large areas of the body increase the fire risk. Impregnated dressings, clothing, towels and bedding should be kept away from naked flames and other sources of ignition.  Fabrics should be washed and changed regularly to prevent build-up.  The residue may not always be completely removed during laundering.  Items may need multiple washes at high temperature using a high quality detergent or, ultimately, should be replaced. 

53. Combustible material should not be left in hallways or adjacent to flat entrance doors as a fire there could block the evacuation route.  

54. Hoarding combustible material is a particular fire hazard which can place the occupier and other residents at risk.


55. Medical gases, such as oxygen therapy units, are a fire risk and advice on their safe use and storage should be given to people using these.  They should not use oxygen therapy when smoking or near other forms of ignition, such as cookers or heaters.  Rooms used for oxygen therapy should be well-ventilated.  Cylinders should not be stored with flammable materials, such as alcohol hand gels, or materials containing, or contaminated with, oils or grease. Cylinder warning signs outside residents’ accommodation should be considered.

56. Cylinders present an explosion risk if exposed to extreme heat.  Leaks from cylinders and tubing, or from around the edge of facemasks, can create an oxygen rich atmosphere which increases the intensity of a fire and the combustibility of clothing worn by residents.  This is a serious risk for smokers and users of emollient creams.

Fire Hazard Indicators 

57. The following are indications that a person could be at risk of having a fire in their home: 

All rooms


Overloaded electrical sockets  

Burn marks or discarded cigarettes on carpets and furniture 

Overfilled ashtrays

Evidence of alcohol misuse (cans, bottles lying around)  

Unsafe use of candles (e.g. unguarded candles) 

Combustible storage near electrical intake and meter 

Combustible materials (e.g. furniture, clothing, waste) near heat sources, such as an electric fire/heater 


Burnt pans or cooking

Build-up of grease on surfaces, particularly ovens, cookers, extractor hoods

Paper or rubbish stored around the cooker hob 


Used as a bedroom (using the sofa as a bed for example)


Smoking in bed 

Burn marks on bedding or carpets 

Old or damaged electric blanket in use

Emollient cream residue on bedding 

The person

Burn marks on person or clothes

Emollient cream residue on clothing 

58. Measures to reduce the risk from these hazards include both fire prevention and fire protection measures, as set out in Steps V and VI below.  The most appropriate measures to adopt will depend on the findings of the person-centred fire safety risk assessment.  It is a principle of fire safety risk assessment that measures taken should be proportionate to the risk. The cost, practicality and benefit gained are all taken into account. Annex 4 offers a range of practical risk reduction measures, mapped to common conditions such as dementia, impaired sight/hearing, mobility problems etc.  Measures should be thought of as a menu of options on a sliding scale, ranging from basic and relatively inexpensive through to more sophisticated and costly.  

Step V Fire Prevention Measures

59. This section sets out measures that will help prevent fire and includes: 

  • Fire-resistant furniture and textiles e.g. bedding / clothing / throws etc.
  • Safer forms of portable heating.
  • Safety ashtrays / metal bins.
  • Fire-resistant smoking apron.
  • Cooking appliances with enhanced safety features.
  • Fire prevention advice and engagement, taking into account the person’s mental capacity to understand, remember and apply such guidance.
  • Replacement of old electrical appliances.
  • Good housekeeping for safety.

Smoking-related measures

60. Fires started from smokers’ materials is the biggest cause of fire deaths in the home. Small care homes and supported group homes often have arrangements for individual risk assessments and control measures which restrict access to smokers’ materials.  The level of assessment and control may be similar to those in larger care homes.  Smoking policies should also take account of the use of e-cigarettes, given the number of fires which have been caused by defective and non-regulated charging devices. 

61. Smoking policies do not generally apply to self-contained accommodation units such as flats in sheltered, extra care or general needs housing.  There are other straightforward risk reduction measures that can be taken such as fire retardant smoking aprons to cover clothing and gaps between the smoker and the sides of their chairs and safety ashtrays that immediately extinguish cigarettes.  For those who tend to overfill ashtrays, the use of metal waste bins (sometimes partially filled with sand) may be a better option. 

62. Fire-resistant upholstery conforming to the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988, as amended, will help to reduce risk.  

63. Additional measures should be considered for people that continue to smoke in bed, despite being advised against it.  These can include fire-resistant mattresses which conform to the 1988 Regulations and bedding (pillowcases, duvets and sheets) that meets the appropriate test requirements of BS 7175 Methods of test for the ignitability of bedcovers and pillows by smouldering and flaming ignition sources. Guidance produced by the Health Facilities Scotland on the type of furniture and furnishings in hospitals is given in SHTM 87 (Firecode: textiles and furniture) which may be more appropriate in some cases (see Reference Section for full list of British Standards and other documents). 

Cooking-related measures

64. Cooking is the most common cause of fire in residential dwellings and can be a particular risk for people with dementia or who are easily distracted.  Cooking combined with alcohol misuse is particularly dangerous. 

65. Heat detectors must be provided in kitchens and will provide warning of fire. Automatic cooker isolation devices, linked to heat detection sensors or timers, will isolate electricity and gas supplies.  Examples can be found in Annex 4

66. In most sheltered and extra care flats, a housing provider’s influence over individual dwellings will be limited.  Residents are often responsible for the ongoing maintenance and cleaning.  Housing and care/support providers should provide advice and guidance on the risks of fire from cooking.  To reduce risk for vulnerable individuals, it can be useful to involve families and external agencies.  All gas and electrical supplies should be subject to ongoing servicing and maintenance.   

Electrical Safety

67. Housing providers/landlords should ensure private accommodation has sufficient electrical outlets.  Inappropriate use of extension cables and adaptors increases fire risk and should be kept to a minimum.  Fire safety guidance should include information on:

  • Not overloading sockets.
  • The dangers of combustible items, such as bedding, near or on heaters. 
  • Not using electrical outlets in dangerous situations in kitchens or bathrooms.
  • Trip hazards posed by trailing leads. 

There is a danger of fire from the unsafe use of white goods. Washing machines, tumble driers and dishwashers should not be used when sleeping or out of the house.  Safety and recall information can be found on the Electrical Safety First website  Products should also be registered online to ensure notification is received from the manufacturer.

68. LPG gas heaters, paraffin heaters and open bar heaters should be avoided and replaced with a fixed heating system, if possible.  Oil-filled radiator portable heaters should be used rather than convector or fan heaters.  

69. Electric blankets should be checked by a specialist every 3 years or as recommended by the manufacturer and should have a British Electrotechnical Approvals Board (BEAB) certification mark.  Blankets over 10 years old or that show signs of wear and tear should not be used.   Blankets should be stored in line with manufacturer’s recommendations.  Moth proofing chemicals should not be used or heavy items placed on top.  Blankets should not be folded as this can damage the wiring.  They may be left on beds or loosely rolled up and stored in a cool, dry place.  

70. Care should be taken with the cables of electric profiling beds (EPBs) since they are susceptible to damage.  EPBs should be operated in line with manufacturer’s instructions, regularly tested to medical equipment standards, the cables checked regularly and no items should be stored underneath.  A residual current device (RCD) will improve safety by switching off electricity automatically if there is a fault, reducing the risks of electrocution and fire caused by earth faults.  The best place for an RCD is built into the main switchboard or socket outlet, as this means the cables are permanently protected.  If this is not possible, a plug incorporating an RCD or plug-in RCD adaptor is an option.


71. Fire risk is reduced by controlling the presence of combustible materials and ignition sources with good housekeeping.  This also helps to ensure that  escape routes are free from obstructions which might hinder evacuation.  

72. Hoarding is a risk to the occupier and others in the building.  Landlords or housing providers should take action to reduce the risk when they become aware of hoarding.  The accommodation lease or rental agreement can cover hoarding given it places other residents at risk.  External agencies and relatives may need to be involved to address hoarding.  Serious hoarding can be linked to mental health issues so should be referred to Adult Social Care services.  Local contact details can be found at

Step VI Fire Protection Measures 

73. This step is about considering the fire protection measures that can be taken to reduce the impact of a fire. Examples include:

  • Enhanced fire detection and assistive accessories.
  • Fire doors.
  • Fire suppression systems.
  • Personal protection watermist systems.
  • Staff assisted evacuation in supported housing/small care homes.

74. Information on 3rd party certification of products and services can be found in Chapter 5

Fire Detection and Warning

75. Fire detection in residents’ private accommodation is essential for detecting fire as early as possible. It will raise an alarm, giving residents sufficient time to escape.  Unless there is a continuous staff presence, detection linked to a social alarm monitoring service, such as Telecare, is recommended.  This allows for 2 way communication with the resident. To protect high risk individuals, a high level of coverage is required and so a LD1 system complying with BS 5839-6 will normally be appropriate.  This requires a heat detector in the kitchen and smoke detectors in all hallways and all other rooms (toilets, shower rooms and bathrooms are normally excluded, unless justified by risk assessment).  

76. Additional sounders and/or low frequency, square wave sounders (520Hz) may also be beneficial for those with hearing difficulties. BS 5446-3 provides further information.  Visual alarms complemented by vibrating pads linked to the fire detection system for use under pillows or mattresses when asleep may be required if a person is deaf or has very impaired hearing.  

77. Voice alarms giving clear instruction in the event of fire may be more appropriate where conventional alarm signals might cause confusion or distress, for example, for some dementia sufferers.

78. Part 2 of the Guidance provides further information on fire detection and alarm systems.

Fire Doors  

79. Fire doors may protect a high risk resident from fire spread within a dwelling, for example, if the individual is a persistent hoarder.  Fire doors to rooms off private internal hallways (excluding toilets/bathrooms) may also be considered if evacuation is likely to be very slow . Part 2 of the Guidance provides further information and benchmarks.

Automatic Fire Suppression Systems  

80. Automatic fire suppression systems, such as domestic sprinkler or watermist systems should be considered for high risk residents. These are activated by heat and usually contain or even extinguish a fire in the room of origin, providing more time for occupants to escape.  A sprinkler head, however, is unlikely to prevent harm to anyone in the room of fire origin whose clothing has caught fire.  

81. Retrofitting suppression systems to existing premises may not always be realistic.  The benefit in risk reduction should be measured against the potential cost and disruption.  As technology evolves, it may become easier and less expensive to retrofit.  Each system will have its own advantages and limitations, so it is important that the fire safety objective is clear and the limitations are fully understood, particularly where systems are not verified as compliant against any recognised standard. 

82. Self-contained personal protection watermist systems are also an option. They have a container of water and a pump, with a nozzle that discharges water over a defined area, such as a bed or chair.  They are usually triggered by smoke detection and respond faster than conventional suppression systems to further reduce the likelihood of harm.  They protect individuals in a specific location and will not have any impact beyond the protected area.  Remote monitoring by an alarm receiving centre or social alarm provider is recommended to ensure SFRS are summoned quickly. Systems with a multi-sensor detector, rather than a smoke detector, can reduce the potential for false alarms.  

83. Other variations are available that use heat scanning technology with rotating heads that target the fire with a jet of water mist. Triggered by a multi-sensor detector, the spray heads then scan the room using an infrared sensor, looking for high temperature readings, or an increase in readings between scans. Once the readings exceed a threshold, the head with the best “view” then directs a jet of watermist onto the fire.

834. There are currently no British Standards for personal protection watermist systems.  Guidance on their use and application is dependent on manufacturer’s guidelines.  The Loss Prevention Certification Board has produced a standard for approval: LPS 1655: Requirements and test methods for the approval and listing of personal protection watermist systems This does not assist in determining suitability for use, although “Guidance on the use, deployment and limitations of Personal Protection Watermist Systems in the homes of vulnerable people has been produced by the Building Research Establishment in partnership with London Fire Brigade (BRE Global).

85. Ideally, suppression should be considered at the design and construction stage to accommodate the changing circumstances of residents.  

86. More information on suppression systems can be found in Part 2 of the Guidance.

Other Options

87. Support needs can change over time and sometimes risk cannot be sufficiently reduced with the additional measures identified by the assessment.  For their safety, a resident might need to move into accommodation with suppression; or where self-evacuation is not possible, to accommodation where more support is available.  The vulnerable individual, family/friends, service commissioners, care providers and housing providers should jointly explore options and plan appropriately. In the case of supported accommodation, some organisations may provide additional equipment or additional staff for evacuation purposes.

Step VII Determine the level of risk 

88. This stage involves considering the overall findings of the risk assessment to prepare and implement an action plan.  Risk has two components: the likelihood that a fire may occur; and the potential for a fire to cause death or injury (consequence).  By referring to the matrix below, the risk should be categorized as low, medium or high.  Action should be taken immediately for high risk individuals.

Risk Matrix

Risk Matrix

Step VIII Prepare and Implement an Action Plan 

89. The Action Plan sets out the additional measures required to reduce fire risk, if needed. These should relate directly to the risk factors identified in the assessment.  Taking forward the actions and implementing them may involve multiple agencies, such as housing providers, care providers and others. Someone (usually the person responsible for the housing) should take the lead by coordinating and overseeing activities.  

90. There should always be meaningful engagement with the resident, to ensure that measures are, and continue to be, effective in reducing risk.  Where individuals have particular needs, additional advice can be included in line with the findings of the person-centred fire safety risk assessment

91. Liaison between housing and care providers, local authority health and social care departments and others may take place through local Community Safety Partnership schemes or other joint working arrangements.  Partnership working has been shown to be successful in securing fire safety improvements.

Review (Step 9)

92. The risk assessment needs to be reviewed regularly to take account of changes in the resident’s capabilities, which may deteriorate or vary over time.  This may result in changes to the fire safety measures required.  Impacts on care or support plans should also be considered.  Engagement remains important, particularly where new measures impact on personal liberty.



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