Schools Fire Safety
There are two main areas of responsibility that schools have with regard to our children: educating them and keeping them safe.
Recent data published by UK fire and rescue services (FRSs) and provided by Zurich Municipal shows that in 2019 there were 40 school fires a month, making schools twice as likely to suffer from fires compared to other buildings.
The report went on to describe many of our schools as a ‘perfect storm’ of buildings at high risk and with ‘poor fire detection and prevention measures’. Those are worrying statistics and observations, so it’s worth taking some time to look at who is responsible for fire safety in our schools and whether schools are obliged to have fire alarms.
Who is responsible for fire safety in schools?
Remarkably, until The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into effect, schools were rarely specifically covered by fire safety legislation. But now schools are treated the same as any other non-domestic properties or workplaces.
That means that a ‘Responsible Person’ needs to take charge of ensuring that regular fire risk assessments are carried out and that appropriate fire detection, control and emergency plans are in place. In the case of schools, that ‘Responsible Person’ could be either the headmaster or a representative of the Board of Governors.
Fire risk assessments cover five main areas:
- Identifying fire risks – specifically by identifying sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen
- Identifying people at risk – including those at extra risk because of mobility and other issues
- Evaluating, removing, reducing and protecting from risk – this covers fire detection, fire fighting, escape routes, signs and emergency lighting
- Recording, planning, informing, instructing and training – record findings and any action taken, preparing an emergency plan, informing and instructing those who need to know and providing relevant training (e.g. using fire extinguishers)
- Review regularly and revise where necessary
Does a school have to have a Fire Alarm?
Apart from small establishments where any fire that breaks out is likely to be almost immediately detected by anyone present, it is almost certain that any fire risk assessment will, as part of its findings, require a school to have fire alarms on all floors and positioned such that they can be heard by anyone anywhere in the building.
So, while there is no specific legislation requiring school fire alarms, any fire risk assessment will insist on their use. The local fire and rescue service will regularly attend to inspect a school’s assessment and to check what fire prevention and detection methods are in place.
If the fire and rescue service finds that the school is not safe, or that it is in breach of the 2005 Regulatory Reform Order, various punishments can be imposed, depending on the severity of the transgression.
One further thought on school fire alarms: given that most schools use bells to indicate when classes begin and end, it is essential that the two sounds are clearly distinct and that those distinct sounds are known and understood by all staff and students.
At Scutum London, we have many years of experience carrying out fire risk assessments in schools and understand the unique circumstances present that need to be taken into account.
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