"London's firefighters are called to more than 80 fires in schools every year.”
Lee Drawbridge – Deputy Assistant Commissioner, London Fire Brigade
Any fire on your school site has the potential to cause considerable damage and disruption and can threaten the lives of children, staff and others who may be on the premises, including those attending evening classes.
Bunsen burners and flammable chemicals in the chemistry lab, cookers and hobs in the kitchen, electrical equipment, smoking on-site and even arson are all possible sources of ignition. Combine with combustible materials like paper, cardboard and furniture and add vulnerable children into the mix, and there is a genuine need to prioritise fire safety in your school environment.
How to reduce the risk?
Every school needs to assess and control fire risks in accordance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This details key preventative action, including:
- A detection and warning system that can be clearly heard and seen.
- Firefighting measures that cover:
b) Sprinkler systems – to protect buildings from fire damage.
- Unobstructed escape routes within a suitable travel distance.
- Emergency lighting that leads pupils and staff to a safe assembly point in the event of a power cut. Lights should also be installed on escape routes and near to escape doors.
- Signs and notices to indicate escape routes, call points, extinguisher types and – vitally – your emergency plan.
- Safe storage for flammable materials and chemicals. Whether they’re being used in the chemistry room or by your grounds maintenance team, hazardous substances must be stored in locked metal cabinets with at least 30 minutes’ fire resistance.
- Fume cabinets in science labs to shield accidental blasts and prevent exposure to hazardous gases or dust during experiments. An initial COSHH assessment will identify the right model for your needs and staff training should cover both general use and emergency procedures.
- A communication to parents and site visitors detailing your no-smoking policy, with follow-up reminders if needed.
- A comprehensive maintenance plan – managed by a trained, competent person – covering your site’s alarm, lighting and fire extinguishers. Set your timings as follows:
a) Assessments of your fixed wiring system at intervals of no greater than 5 years, completed by a NICEIC-approved contractor.
b) Annual services for your alarm and lighting systems, fire call points and extinguishers, carried out by a certified product professional.
c) Twice-yearly fire drills.
d) In-house weekly alarm tests and fire call point tests, with one different call point actioned per week to ensure the bell is working effectively.
e) Three-monthly lighting tests.
f) Routine examination of your portable appliances.
Fire safety responsibilities
During drills or in the event of a fire, teachers are responsible for the safe evacuation of their students and a subsequent class roll call – but pupils also have an important part to play.
Students should understand what to do when the alarm sounds, including which fire exits to use, their pre-arranged assembly point, actions to take if they discover a fire and their role in keeping gangways clear. In particular, pupils should be reminded about hanging coats and bags out of the way to ensure a safe exit in an emergency.
A note on arson
Shockingly, according to the Fire Safety Advice Centre (FSAC), as many as 70% of school fires attended by local authority fire brigades are thought to have been started deliberately (source: LINK).
The FSAC’s five-point plan lists the basics of preventing an attack:
- Deter unauthorised entry onto the site.
- Prevent unauthorised entry into the building.
- Reduce the opportunity for an offender to start a fire.
- Reduce the scope for potential fire damage.
- Reduce subsequent losses and disruption from a fire by preparing a disaster resulting recovery plan.
They also offer practical tips on protecting your site:
- Discourage trespassers with strong fences and hedges and clearly mark boundaries with private property signs.
- Restrict access to combustible materials by emptying waste bins daily and locking away refuse and recycling containers, posting them no fewer than 8 metres from main buildings. The same distance should be used for sheds and equipment stores.
- Maintain a well-lit site and install motion sensors and security lighting for lesser-used areas of your property.
- Step up building security with alarms, approved locks, solid door frames and CCTV. Keep gates locked overnight and enlist the help of local police and neighbourhood watch schemes.
- Minimise the potential effects of fire through design features like ceiling voids, fire-stops in the roof and fire breaks in walls and doors.
Your students can only thrive in a safe environment. A tailored, comprehensive health and safety plan keeps your school community protected while allowing them to push the boundaries of learning. Discover how H&S management could benefit your school. Get in touch to request your complimentary visit and preview the power of best health and safety practice.