More than 25,000 Queenslanders are living in aged care homes that do not meet fire safety laws.
An audit of 926 residential care buildings found 784 do not meet safety standards, including some regulations introduced five years ago after the Childers backpacker fire.
Those regulations and other changes were enshrined in law last year. The audit found the 784 properties failed fire safety laws on at least two fronts.
It found 674 didn't have appropriate sprinkler systems and evacuation systems, and 281 didn't have appropriate smoke alarms.
Others lacked compliant fire extinguishers, and others did not have appropriate emergency escapes.
The highest-risk properties, multi-level properties built with more combustible materials, have another two years to fully comply with safety requirements. The remaining properties have until September 2016.
Aged Care Queensland chief executive, Nick Ryan, told DPS News while they support the Queensland government in setting “appropriate” fire safety standards, the “physical safety of residents and staff is paramount”.
“We understand that an increase in minimum fire safety standards may regrettably bring the closure of some aged care facilities,” Mr Ryan said.
“We will work with our providers to ensure as many providers as possible undertake changes. In some instance, only minor changes to facilities will be required to meet the new fire safety code,” he added.
Mr Ryan claimed Aged Care Queensland would look for state and federal assistance in the “ongoing viability” of aged care facilities, particularly in rural and regional areas.
“We’re not criticising the Queensland government. We think their commitment to fire preparedness is admirably respected and understand the sensitivity around fire safety in facilities that house multiple residents.
“But we’re interested in taking a proactive approach using more than just sprinklers, and would rather inform staff and residents villages on the capacity to evacuate.
Public Works Minister, Bruce Flegg, said the poor results of the survey were not unexpected given the age of many of the buildings. But he added none of the non-compliant properties had seen a fatal fire.
Mr Flegg said he wanted every property to comply with fire safety requirements.
“The reality is we’ve changed the rules mid-stream. We are trying to get a balance here between protecting the lives of elderly people in the event of a fire and ensuring that the industry is able to fund and afford compliance,” he said.
He said a small number of aged-care homes had reportedly told the government they could not afford the upgrades and would be forced to close.
But the government would not be offering any financial assistance.
“It would not be the normal practice for the government to fund a necessary upgrade to a privately operated facility,” he said.