Fire protection system maintenance in aged care facilities

by FM Media
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aged care

Aged care facilities remain some of the most at-risk environments for COVID-19 outbreaks. Here’s John Lynch on the new ins and outs for technicians managing fire safety systems.

The Australian Government has been working closely with the aged care sector to safeguard the health and wellbeing of older Australians during the coronavirus pandemic. Underlying health issues can make the elderly more prone to complications caused by the virus. Therefore, strict protocols for residents, staff and visitors are enforced in accordance with the Australian Department of Health, helping to prepare for and mitigate the risk of outbreaks. 

Aged-care facility managers have had adopt new protocols for contractors performing essential maintenance to building systems, such as fire protection. Maintaining fire systems is a critical life safety activity that safeguards building occupants and protects property by reducing the likelihood of a major fire event occurring. The industry is guided by the Australian Standard AS 4083-2010 (Planning for emergencies – healthcare facilities) with fire equipment maintenance an essential service that must continue regardless of the pandemic.   

Communication has played a key role in managing fire safety and compliance obligations for retirement and aged care facilities across Australia. Providers, such as Wormald, have been working closely with facility managers in the aged care sector to ensure they comply with strict protocols while they continue to maintain essential services for fire protection systems. This includes working within individual state and territory guidelines, which can change at a moment’s notice, as was the case in Victoria when the state went into lockdown for a third time due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Experience shows that in times such as these, when activity within and around a facility changes from its normal operating pattern, the risk of fire can be heightened. Given the current situation, it has never been more important to ensure all fire systems in buildings, including aged care facilities, continue to be tested and maintained to ensure they will operate in accordance with their design intent and purpose.

Gaining authorisation to enter certain areas, such as private residential rooms, is necessary to carry out mandatory testing. However, access can often be a challenge. If the residents do not allow the fire technicians to enter rooms, the compliance rating for the entire site can be compromised. Technicians have been able to successfully overcome such issues by working closely with site managers and implementing streamlined communications plans. 

Facility systems and portals, such as Verified, allow technicians to obtain clear visibility across areas where there may be testing gaps, such as private rooms, helping to address issues directly before they occur. This has become particularly important with increased restrictions in force.

Prior to gaining access to aged care facilities and retirement homes, our technicians make scheduled appointments to help limit their time on site. A maximum of two technicians can be on site at any one time and they must always adhere to physical distancing of 1.5 metres. Our technicians must also undergo temperature checks as an added precaution and if they feel or show signs of COVID-19 symptoms, testing and self-isolation for 14 days is mandatory. To further protect residents, our  technicians can show evidence of a recent flu vaccination and are instructed to avoid communal areas of the facility. A deep clean of all surfaces and environments is also conducted upon exit. 

Technicians now are always extremely mindful of the need to wear appropriate PPE to prevent the risk of spreading the virus in at risk environments such as aged care facilities and surgical masks, P2/N95 respirators, gloves and goggles form part of their kit. All equipment is then removed and thrown away when leaving a facility, breaking from work, or entering vehicles, with proper disposal procedures including placement in individual plastic bags for collection points to manage.

It is important that emergency plans are adapted as COVID-19 remains a risk to the community. The development of clear procedures to ensure appropriate hygiene standards continue to be met, despite the easing of restrictions, to ensure aged care facilities are kept safe from both coronavirus infections as well as fires.

John Lynch is general manager, business services at Wormald Australia.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

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