Posted by Steve McConnell at 22/07/2015 14:12:37
Steve McConnell, Dimensions’ Head of Health and Safety, on some positive changes to national fire regulations
“When David walks through his front door, he sees a fire safety poster on his wall. Next door is a call point. Overhead are smoke alarms supplemented with flashing lights. A sprinkler system is primed and ready, in addition to the various extinguishers.
Walking into his bedroom, he has to push open a heavy fire door with auto closures reinforced by an intumescent strip and cold smoke seal.
At night, if the smoke alarm goes off, his pillow will vibrate to let him know.
Although he has been trained extensively on why it is important to leave the house if the fire alarm goes off, he also has a permanent sleep-in support worker just in case.
That’s how it works for him. What about you?”
Personalised support for someone with a learning disability means making choices: choice of support worker, choice of routine, choice of hobbies. Balancing fire safety with the freedom to decide what does and doesn’t go in your house is another choice, sometimes a difficult one.
One thing that should not be a factor is the postcode lottery. But the reality is that today, two neighbouring supported living houses in different fire authority areas may be assessed against different standards and made to conform in different ways. That simply can’t be right. In the NHS, national standards exist. Ditto registered care homes. So why is supported living so tricky?
At Dimensions we were concerned not to be taken to court for something considered unacceptable by one fire authority but acceptable to others that we have decided to work towards “Primary Authority” status with the Lincolnshire fire authority. In a nutshell, this accreditation means that if we were to be hauled over the coals by another authority, Lincolnshire would step in to back up our practice.
As Head of Health and Safety for Dimensions and an executive member of NASHiCS, the National Association for Safety and Health in Care Services, much of my time is spent considering how to ensure the safety of the people we support whilst still delivering a personalised service. And right now, I am leading NASHiCS’ work in partnership with the Chief Fire Offers Association and government to devise a national set of principles to help fire officers assess consistently across the country, whilst maintaining an individual’s right to choose.
The process isn’t quick. In fact, we’ve been talking to the CFOA and Home Office for 12 months already. But there is progress; no-one is now disputing the need for consistent national guidance. No-one is disputing the primacy of personalisation. Everyone has understood the wide range of supported living scenarios that need to be considered. The work to write the guidance is underway and I look forward to this being available in 2016. If your organisation isn’t part of NASHiCS, consider joining. It’s a strong and important representative voice championing health, safety and personalised support across the sector. We can be even stronger with your support.
Learning Disability Awareness week is coming to a close. Through it, Mencap have tried to hold politicians to account. United Response have told stories of the people they support. Dimensions likewise, focusing on people being part of their local community.
I wish there was no need for awareness weeks. There are 52 weeks in each year and any group that finds itself ‘eligible’ for an awareness week undoubtedly deserves the same courtesy for the other 51.
Every day in my job supporting families of people with learning disabilities and autism I come across examples of unawareness. Thoughtless comments, bizarre assumptions and downright offensive generalisations. With over 50 years of dealing with this nonsense personally about my brother and daughter, and through my work I thought I was a tough old boot but to my surprise last week I broke down in tears and hung up on a hapless young man during an official call about my daughter. Some days are like that. He rang me back, maybe he had some awareness training. National awareness training, now that would add value to awareness weeks.
Every family carer I know has fragile days when a little bit of thoughtfulness or thoughtlessness can make a big difference. Today I had a message from a service manager to say a particular parent could use someone to talk to. Some people really notice and act. That kind of awareness comes from living alongside each other 52 weeks a year, and with the best will in the world can’t be replicated by an awareness week.
I think the best way to raise awareness is to spend time together, get involved, get messy, carry tissues, laugh about it, go somewhere different, meet someone new, listen.
What do you think?