A care home run by BUPA has been ordered to pay a record £1.04 million for a breach of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order following a blaze at their Manley Court care home in March 2016.

The resident, Cedric Skyers was a wheelchair user and died in a fire whilst smoking unsupervised in a shelter in the garden of the home. An investigation found that although the home had carried out a smoking risk assessment for Mr Skyers, it did not consider his use of emollient creams, which can be flammable if allowed to build up on clothing or skin. The investigation also found burn marks on Mr Skyers’ clothes indicating that there had been previous related incidents and the care home staff stated they were not aware of these.

BUPA accepted that it had failed to:

  • ensure staff understood the risks from the use of emollient creams;
  • warn residents using paraffin-based products not to smoke, or, require precautions to be taken such as the use of a smock or apron;
  • instruct staff not to leave a resident using paraffin-based products smoking unsupervised; and
  • carry out an individual smoking risk assessment of the resident as normal with the control measures in place.

The fire risks associated with the use of emollient skin creams are well publicised; for example, in 2020 working with the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency launched a campaign on the topic and associated guidance (that can be found here). It is clear therefore that the fire service (and indeed, the CQC – who have released their own press releases on this topic) will expect action to be taken to ensure the safety of residents. Whilst the level of this fine will in part be based on the size and turnover of the specific provider, this prosecution and the fine should be treated as a marker of how seriously fire safety risks in a care setting will be treated.

Care home providers must ensure that the risks associated with paraffin-based products are fully assessed, particularly where a resident smokes, and measures are put in place to mitigate the risks identified. These measures should take account of the resident's level of mobility and ability to raise alarm.