Coroner warns social workers: check service users have smoke alarms

Coroner says William Thompson's social workers didn't consider to check his bedroom for a smoke alarm - he died in November 2014

Picture: highwaystarz/fotolia

Social workers have been warned to check smoke alarms for high-risk service users after a man receiving support from Hackney council died in a house fire.

William Thompson died of smoke inhalation in November 2014 when his bedding caught alight from a discarded cigarette. He lived in supported housing and while smoke alarms were installed in his hall and kitchen, there was no smoke detection system in his bedroom.

Coroner Hassell said Mr Thompson’s social workers “never addressed their minds to the question of whether there was a smoke detector in his room and, if not, whether that might be useful”, despite him being at high risk of fire due to his smoking, drinking and immobility.

Hassell added that this issue would “benefit from exploration” for high-risk service users.

A spokesperson for Hackney council said: “Our thoughts are still with Mr William Thompson’s family after his tragic death. Hackney council and London Fire Brigade had been doing a lot of work to support Mr Thompson and his family in relation to fire risk and we remain committed to ensuring that we learn lessons from this very sad incident.”

The case was referred to a safeguarding adults review, which resulted in the development of a self-neglect protocol and increased staff training on fire safety.

The council spokesperson added: “Fire alarms are just one tool used as a fire safety measure, with fire safety awareness and home checks also being used to ensure the safety of service users. In addition, the council often makes referrals to London Fire Brigade for fire alarm installation and check-up. Whoever is best placed to check smoke alarms should do so, and this will depend on each individual case, so it may be, for instance, a friend, family member, social worker, occupational therapist, or London Fire Brigade themselves.”



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6 Responses to Coroner warns social workers: check service users have smoke alarms

  1. John pilcher August 11, 2016 at 8:42 pm #

    It has been a requirement for IFA’s to check these and co2 detectors monthly on every visit? I would have though this would be standard across all services were vulnerable service users reside.

    • Andrea August 12, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

      in the house/home, but in a childs bedroom?

  2. S August 12, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    These findings are UTTER noncence. As a support worker I routinely check fire alarms however the service users frequently remove batteris or purposely break them. As for fitting alarms in bedroom that’s not the norm as the aim is to alert them b4 the fire/smoke reaches the bedroom so it’s a wasted effort. As if in bedroom it’s too late.

  3. GMP August 14, 2016 at 10:12 am #

    A smoke alarm/detector in the bedroom of a smoker will go off continuously. They will break them and/or remove batteries. Unfortunate but I cannot see how this would help.

  4. Ruth Cartwright August 15, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    I think it was thought the SW should have checked there was a smoke alarm in the bedroom because this service user was particularly high risk because of self-neglect. However, as part of this risk seems to have been smoking in bed, I can’t see how a smoke alarm which would then have gone off continually as my colleague above points out would have helped. I worry a bit that this is the thin end of the wedge – we cannot protect individuals who are self neglectful or even self harming from every danger as they are also autonomous adults, and we should not be expected to do so or be blamed if something does go wrong because of the person’s own behaviour. I would expect the SW (and all the others involved in the care of this gentleman) to have pointed out to him the possible consequences of his smoking in bed (if they knew he was doing it), but can we really be expected to do much more? I know we sometimes have the gas turned off where someone uses their cooker dangerously, but the only thing that could have been done here (given that the smoke detector wouldn’t have worked) would be to take away the man’s cigarettes against his will and I’m not sure we ought to be doing that. Or should we be having everyone who indulges in dangerous behaviour deemed lacking in mental capacity?!? This case raises some fairly big issues about people’s rights to live dangerously as it were.

  5. Andrea August 18, 2016 at 11:23 am #

    it also raises fairly big issues about what coroners and others think the job of a social worker is…….