Fire safety improvements recommended for Shetland care homes could require ‘major capital’ spend

A fire safety review into Shetland care homes has identified areas of concern that could require a “major capital” spend to resolve, a meeting heard. 

The SIC’s audit committee discussed today (Tuesday) the findings of the review, which highlighted a number of “red” areas for attention – including curtains over a fire exit and non-compliant fire doors. 

The review, undertaken by Keegans, found the three care homes inspected – Islehavn in Yell, North Haven in Brae and Edward Thomason/Taing House in Lerwick – met current legislative standards.

In general, fire safety management was found to be of a good standard.

However, it also  concluded that additional measures could be implemented to further reduce the risk from fire in each of the centres. 

Concerns were raised about the storage of combustible materials such as bedding, the use of curtains over a fire exit and the design of one of the home’s roof structures, which it said created “extreme difficulties in correctly installing fire barriers”.

A report to the committee by the SIC’s director of corporate services Christine Ferguson, said the review would next be presented to the council’s policy and resources committee on 23rd November.

It will then go before the Integration Joint Board (IJB), which is responsible for commissioning  care home services, to inform the decisions of the council with regard to any works required.

Mrs Ferguson told the meeting that the work “has the potential to become a major capital project for the council”.

As a result, all SIC members will be invited to a seminar at which Keegans will discuss its findings in detail. 

Audit committee chairman Allison Duncan said he had been advocating for the security and safety of care homes for some time.

He paid tribute to care home staff and their “outstanding” work looking after Shetland’s most vulnerable. 

However, he also said “we have to look to the future” including how to enhance safety and security for care home staff and residents alike. 

Mr Duncan also acknowledged the potential for the project to become a major cost for the council. 

However he said there was sometimes a need to “spend to save lives”.

Mr Duncan highlighted particular concerns with fire safety, including the potential difficulties in providing an emergency response in the isolated Northern Isles. 

He also referred to two major recent fires – the Fair Isle Bird Observatory and Moorfield Hotel in Brae, highlighting that neither building had sprinklers.

Mr Duncan noted that while some care homes did have sprinklers. it should be “exactly the same for others”.

Councillor Catherine Hughson agreed, adding that “if it’s good for one then it should be good for them all”.

Councillor Ian Scott questioned whether it would possible to make a recommendation for sprinklers to be included in care homes – but was told that was outside of the scope of the audit committee. 

Emma Macdonald, chairwoman of the IJB, said some of the report’s findings were “reassuring” as it showed  fire risk assessments and testing had been completed to good standard and that staff training was appropriate.

Having been working at ET&T for the past five months, she said she was reassured how fire safety works and was dealt with in practice.

“It’s clear it was a priority and all staff were aware of the processes,” she added. 

“As chair of IJB the safety of our care home residents and staff is a huge priority for me and I look forward to considering this report with the further details going forward.”

Councillor Robbie McGregor asked whether some of the “modest ticket items” mentioned in the report could be dealt with quickly. 

Mrs Ferguson said issues around “soft furnishings”  had been taken care of before the report was issued, and discussions were ongoing with building maintenance teams regarding other smaller pieces of work. 

Before a final recommendation can be made, further work is required to identify details of the measures to be taken, including costs.


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