Residential Care Premises

It is important to understand that more than one piece of fire safety legislation and/or fire safety guidance can be applied to any individual premises, eg a nursing home. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 apply and there could be others.


Fire Safety in new and altered Residential Care premises are subject to the Building Regulations and the guidance for fire matters are dealt with by Approved Document Part B Fire Safety. Within that document, appendix G and H, there is a list of other guidance documents that may be relevant.

When premises are occupied fire precautions are controlled by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and this order lays down legal requirements.

Fire Safety Guide for England and Wales

The most appropriate guide for Residential Care Premises is likely to be the legally binding guide Residential care premises. This guide is for all employers, managers, occupiers and owners of permanently staffed premises providing residential care where some or all of the residents might require assistance in the event of a fire, for example, where residents may not be able to make their way to a place of total safety unaided. It informs you what you have to do to comply with fire safety law, helps you to carry out a fire risk assessment and identify the general fire precautions you need to have in place. It applies to premises where the main use is the provision of residential care (where the primary purpose is to provide of personal and/or nursing care, not healthcare treatment). Typical residential care premises include those where care is provided for

  • the elderly or infirm
  • children and young persons
  • people with special needs such as those with learning difficulties or with mental or physical disabilities, and
  • people with addictions.

This guide may also be suitable for individual residential care premises that are part of other multi-use complexes, although consultation with other people responsible will be necessary as part of an integrated risk assessment for the complex. The relevant parts of this guide can also be used as a basis for fire risk assessment in premises where care is provided on a non-residential basis, e.g. day care centres. The guide is not intended for use in

  • sheltered accommodation, where no care is provided
  • premises where the primary use is healthcare treatment, e.g. hospitals (including private) and other healthcare premises; and
  • single private dwellings where out-posted nursing care is provided.

The guide has been written to provide guidance for the Responsible Person, to help them to carry out a fire risk assessment in most residential care premises. If you read the guide and decide that you are unable to apply the guidance, then you should seek the expert advice of a competent person. Premises with very large numbers of residents (e.g. greater than 60), or with complicated layouts (e.g. a network of escape routes, or split levels), or those of greater than four storeys or which form part of a multi-occupied complex, will probably need to be assessed by a competent person who has comprehensive training or experience in fire risk assessment. However, this guide can be used for homes which are part of multi-occupied buildings to address fire safety issues within the individual occupancy.

Fire Risks

Premises falling within the definition of a residential care home are statutory homes run by local authorities and homes run by voluntary organisations. This includes childrens homes, community homes, homes for the elderly, homes for the mentally ill, homes for the mentally and physically handicapped. It also covers privately run establishments in which residential care is provided and certain voluntary and privately run nursing homes that provide nursing care, but which have a greater affinity to residential homes than to hospitals.

It is recognised that difficulties may sometimes arise in determining whether a particular premises is in one of these categories and the following guidance is intended to provide a basis for differentiation. Residential care premises should be taken to include premises where residential accommodation with board (i.e. not just lodgings) is provided for persons, not being members of the proprietor’s immediate family, in need of care by reason of age, sickness, injury, infirmity, disablement or present or past mental disorder. The premises may be called boarding houses, rest homes, guest houses, nursing homes, hostels or hotels, or indeed homes of any of the descriptions mentioned above. They may require to be registered by local social services authorities under the Residential Homes Act 1980 or to be registered as nursing homes under the Nursing Homes Act 1975, or in Scotland under the Nursing Homes Registration (Scotland) Act 1938, or the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968.

They should not, however, be premises identified by the local housing authority as houses in multiple occupation, for which separate guidance on fire precautions applies. It should be noted that nursing homes in which the nature of the care or treatment provided is akin to that of a hospital, then separate guidance is available for such premises.

Further Information

Fire Safety in Care Homes for Older People and Children by Dr S D Christian published by the British Standards Institute.

This informative book is an invaluable resource for designers, owners and managers of homes for older people and childrens homes. Also useful for anyone involved in renovation or refurbishment of care homes as it outlines the advised fire safety precautions and explains how to implement them in the planning stages. Also helpful if you are responsible for enforcing fire safety standards in both new and existing premises. ISBN 0 580 41427 2
Comment – It is a bit wordy but there are some really useful comments such as: ‘no reliance should be placed on external rescue by the fire brigade’.


During training sessions as well as detailing and practicing fire procedures some time should be devoted to emphasising simple fire precautions in an attempt to stop fires happening. Not only is fire training in most premises required under the law, it also makes sense, half an hour spent may prevent a fire in the first place and can save lives. For further information go to Staff fire safety training.

Arson Prevention

Arson is the single most common cause of fire in premises and 45% of all serious fires are a result of arson. Much of this is not targeted and the vast majority of arson attacks are down to opportunist vandalism. Apart from the need to comply with the law, the Responsible Person has a duty to himself and his business to reduce this risk to as low as reasonable possible. Information to assist you, to achieve these aims, go to my page on How to Combat Arson


March 17, 2011[Last updated: March 30, 2019]

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