Schools, colleges and educational establishments are subject to the same fire safety regulations as all other commercial and public buildings. Since the Fire Safety Order superseded previous fire safety legislation in 2005, there is no need for schools to apply for a Fire Safety Certificate. Instead, each school must carry out an individual risk assessment, create an Emergency Fire Plan and appoint competent persons – Fire Officers – to implement it in case of an emergency.
Compliance with the Fire Safety Order involves identifying fire hazards and taking action to protect high risk persons. Schools and colleges are a special case because of the high number of children under their care – all of whom are considered to be at high risk from fire.
Children are high-risk persons for fire safety reasons because:
Looking after children in these circumstances requires special vigilance and responsibility on the part of all of your staff and teachers. Large numbers of children require every adult to play their role in ensuring fire safety. It also requires a personalised approach to the fire safety risk assessment blueprint we will explain below:
For a fire to start three properties are required:
1. A source of ignition – such as a naked flame, hot process, arson etc.
2. A fuel source – such as paper, flammable chemicals, plastic or rubber etc.
3. A source of oxygen – this could be just the air around us or a pure source from an oxygen cylinder for example
Without any one of the properties above the chances of fires starting are extremely slim, so it’s important to always try and reduce the chances of all 3 items coming together and starting a fire.
These include all teachers, contractors, cleaners, visitors and other staff in and around the premises, as well as the children. Identify the highest risk areas, which are likely to be your classrooms, play areas and eating hall.
Disabled students and students who work alone may be at special risk as they may not be able to evacuate to a safe area, or be aware that a fire has started, so it’s important to have a separate plan in place for these particular risks.
Once hazards and at-risk people are identified, you can evaluate the risk of fire in each part of your premises. Remove all unnecessary hazards e.g. make sure flammable materials are stored in isolated and fire protected-storerooms. You will then need to install a suitable fire detection and alarm system, ensure emergency escape routes and fire escapes are clear and emergency lighting is in situ on the escape routes and poorly lit areas. Emergency signs and notices appropriate to the children’s level of understanding should also be provided.
Based on your risk assessment, you should prepare an emergency plan containing your findings and the action needed to reduce each risk. Training can then be provided to all staff, with the appointment of Fire Safety Officers to oversee evacuation, raise the alarm and isolate the fire. If a fire occurs, children are likely to become excited or panicked, so sufficient resources should be assigned to shepherding them from the building, assembling them in the muster points, and then double checking the building to make sure the evacuation is complete.
Instead of having fire alarm sounders that emit a siren or bell, specialist systems are available which could, for instance, play a nursery rhyme or song so that students aren’t panicked.
You should review your risk assessment on a regular basis, and whenever your circumstances change. For instance, you will need to update your plan if your classroom capacity expands, you take on new staff, or you take in pupils with special educational or mobility needs.
You must ensure all existing equipment is kept in working order, which can be achieved by having regular inspections in accordance with statutory requirements by a competent person. One of the ways to achieve this is by employing the services of a third party accredited company to carry out these checks.
Our free Quick Guide to UK Fire Safety Regulations is an easy to read summary of all the main points of the Fire Safety Order and how to comply. You can download a copy for free by clicking here. If you’re concerned about fire safety in your school and would like to talk to one of our advisers, please call us today on 0333 8000 300.