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Teaching fire safety in schools
February 28, 2020

Ten UK schools are affected by fire every week. This means that thousands of pupils and staff are being disrupted and put at risk. Addressing fire safety in schools is therefore of the utmost importance.

There has been an encouraging reduction in the number of school fires in recent years. In order to help more schools continue this positive trend in 2020, our fire safety experts have put together a step by step guide.

Graph showing the number of UK school fires in the last 10 years

School fire statistics in the UK

The number of fires that occur in UK schools has decreased in recent history. However, the latest 2018-2019 government fire statistics show there is still much room for improvement, when it comes to fire safety in schools.

  • In 2018-2019 there were 582 fires in UK schools.
  • There were 29 casualties as a result of school fires.
  • 82% of fires were accidental.
  • 18% of fires were started deliberately as an act of arson.

Establish the “responsible person” in your school

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 was introduced to outline general fire precautions that must be adopted by all workplaces in England and Wales. It applies to all educational premises, from pre-schools to universities.

A key part of this legislation is the concept of a “responsible person”, otherwise known as a Fire Safety Officer. This is the person or group of people in your school who are ultimately responsible for fire safety.

Most commonly, these people are identified as headteachers, governing bodies or maintenance engineers. Anybody who has control of the school building or an area can be considered a responsible person.

The responsible person must, by law, arrange for a fire risk assessment to be carried out. As a result, they then need to take general fire precautions to protect those in the school. If they don’t do so, they could be prosecuted.

The fire safety officer may have ultimate responsibility, but they do not stand alone. A key part of their role is to appoint and train fire wardens, who will help them to execute their school’s fire safety strategy.

Carry out a school fire risk assessment

Carrying out a fire risk assessment is a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform Order. The findings of this will form the basis of your school’s fire safety strategy.

A school fire risk assessment will:

  • Identify each of the potential fire hazards on your site.
  • Determine if there are people who’d be especially vulnerable if a fire broke out.
  • Establish the risk level to all pupils and staff.
  • Assess whether existing safety measures are adequate.
  • Identify the additional measures that need to be introduced to improve safety.

 

Is your school building currently under construction?

If you are responsible for a school building that is under construction, you must refer to the Building Bulletin issue 100. This document outlines the technical requirements of a design for fire safety in schools.

These building regulations not only outline an optimum building layout for fire prevention. They also give guidance on features that can slow down the spread of fire. Slowing down the spread of fire will limit the disruption caused by a blaze, protecting against the loss of coursework and lowering potential closure periods.

Introduce recommended fire prevention measures

The most notable root causes of fires in schools are combustible materials stored on site and arson. Tackling these threats is crucial in improving fire safety in schools.

Combustible materials

The storage of flammable materials in the school building is something that will be flagged up in your fire risk assessment.

In many cases it is possible to reduce the risk of a fire by changing the way things are stored in the school. For example, you could make a science laboratory storeroom more resistant to fire or speed up the removal of waste around the school.

Graph showing the rate of arson attacks in UK schools

Arson

In 2018/2019, almost one in five school fires were started deliberately. Therefore, upping security at your school is also something that must be considered in order to lower fire risk.

Increasingly, schools are introducing measures such as Dynamic lockdown, to tackle the threat of people who wish to do the school and its inhabitants harm. A dynamic lockdown system can quickly restrict access to building entrances, should a threat be identified in school hours.

Other security measures you could consider introducing include:

Test the school fire alarm and invest in fire safety equipment

Ensuring that your school fire alarm is fit for purpose and maintained effectively is hugely important.

The most effective alarm system will:

  • Be maintained on a regular basis for reliable operation.
  • Provide early detection of a genuine fire.
  • Protect against false alarm activations as effectively as possible.

It’s essential that this system is backed up by fire safety training to educate pupils on the dangers of false alarms. Staff should also be trained to act as fire wardens, responsible for marshalling pupils in the event of a real fire or drill.

There are also many other types of equipment that can help the responsible fire officer at your school boost safety, including:

Essential safety features required by law

Supplementary safety features to consider

Pupils in a school classroom

Review your school fire drill procedure

You should ensure that fire drills are carried out on a regular basis at your school. By consistently practicing your fire evacuation process, you can identify any issues that need addressing.

Here’s a checklist to ensure that your school fire drill follows best practices:

  1. Carry out the drill at least once each term and at different times of day.
  2. Insist that all fire wardens practice their duties as they would in a real emergency.
  3. Encourage members of staff to observe and comment on the success of the drill.
  4. Reinforce the message that pupils should evacuate calmly and efficiently.
  5. Test everybody’s knowledge of escape routes and fire assembly points.
  6. Check the effectiveness of PEEPs (vulnerable person’s personal evacuation plan).
  7. Practice your roll calling procedure and building sweep.
  8. Take action to improve any issues that are identified during fire drills.

Put your school fire safety policy in place

A school fire safety policy summarises all of the key information about your fire safety strategy. It can be presented on your website and in communications with parents to demonstrate how seriously you take pupil safety. The contents of your policy should include information on:

  • Staff roles and responsibilities in the event of a fire.
  • The frequency of fire risk assessments, fire drills and training.
  • The procedure for testing fire safety equipment.
  • Assembly point locations for staff, pupils and visitors.
  • A step by step evacuation plan that will be followed if a fire breaks out.

BusinessWatch are experts in fire safety and security systems that safeguard schools across the UK. Find out more about our services for schools, request an instant quote for a fire risk assessment or ask one of our expert consultants a question. Our friendly team would be delighted to advise you on your fire safety and security requirements.

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