Fire Safety in Schools: Key Principles for Administration

Fire Safety in Schools Key Principles

School fires are too common in the UK. Around 90,000 students have had their education disrupted due to fires, according to a 2021 Home Office report. And between 2016 and 2021, over 74,000 square meters (about 10 football pitches) of teaching facilities were damaged by fires.

Fire safety in schools is vital, so it’s important that those with the responsibility to keep pupils, staff and facilities safe, are aware of key fire safety principles. This blog looks at the common causes of school fires, fire safety regulations and breaks down the duties of a person or group, responsible for fire safety.

What Are the Common Causes of Fires in Schools?

Arson

Most school fires (60%) are the result of arson. Arson attacks usually happen during school holidays. This is when nobody is on site to detect a fire or initiate a fire safety procedure. Automated sprinkler systems are key to reducing the impact of arson.

Unintentional Fires

Accidental fires in schools are very common. With the number of students enrolled in a school, it’s almost impossible to have an eye on everyone. From smoking to the use of flammable chemicals in or out of the science lab, there are various ways students can cause fires.

Fire Awareness Training

Our Fire Awareness Training course gives a basic understanding of fire prevention principles, the sources of ignition and fuel, as well as safe systems of work to prevent fire hazards and accidents within the work environment.

Poor Maintenance

Without regular, planned maintenance, fire systems can fail. Lack of maintenance usually comes down to cost cutting. But the expense of a fire probably outstrips what it would have cost to maintain the system.

Faulty Electrics

Electrical equipment and systems that are not assessed and repaired on a regular basis can also cause fires. Regular maintenance and tests will detect issues that can be repaired, and ultimately reduce the likelihood of a fire.

High Risk Areas

Science labs filled with Bunsen burners and chemicals; design and technology workshops full of more chemicals and electrical equipment like sanding machines that can overheat, and IT rooms with overloaded plug sockets, are all potential fire starters.

Fire High Risk Areas Schools

Other Occupants

School premises are often rented out to community groups or members of the public for private events. Even with all the fire safety procedures in place, there’s no guarantee that they are followed.

School Fire Safety Legislation?

There are no specific fire safety regulations for schools. Rather they fall under Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005, which covers commercial and non-domestic premises.

Under this law, all workplaces (including schools) must appoint a Responsible Person (RP) who ensures that the school has fire prevention measures in place. They must look out for fire hazards, coordinate regular fire drills and oversee all other fire safety measures.

Their role also includes carrying out fire risk assessments.

Following the fire safety regulations protects everyone who uses the school premises, as well as neighbouring buildings and organisations.

What is a ‘Responsible Person’?

Some schools may have a designated fire safety officer, who acts as the responsible person. The person in this role is usually trained and qualified. Other schools appoint the headteacher, or a group of teaching staff to take on the role but they have different fire safety responsibilities.

Key principles that must be followed by those with fire safety responsibilities include:

  • Fire safety precautions to prevent harm to pupils, staff, visitors and school premises
  • Carrying out a risk assessment
  • Arrangements are in place for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of all fire prevention and protective measures.
  • Eliminating or reducing the risks associated with dangerous substances
  • Premises having adequate firefighting equipment – smoke detectors, fire alarms, extinguishers
  • Extinguishers being accessible, operational and signposted
  • Regular Fire drills
  • Fire safety signage is in place
  • All fire safety routes clear and exits free from blockages
  • Training and information are given to all school workers
  • All pupils and visitor receive fire safety information

What Can Happen If Fire Legislation Isn’t Followed?

If you don’t follow legislation you could face penalties, fines and notices. Aside from the fact that pupils, staff, visitors and members of the public can be harmed and school premises damaged.

These include the following notices:

Alteration Notices

An alteration notice, is a formal fire safety notice, issued where significant safety risks are found.

Enforcement Notices

More severe enforcement notices are issued when serious fire safety risks are found following an inspection by an enforcement officer. They outline specific amendments that need to be made and come with strict deadlines that must be met.

Prohibition Notices

If your school is found to have a severe fire risk, the appointed responsible person could be served with a prohibition notice. A prohibition notice prevents admittance to the school premises, with immediate effect and outlines exactly what needs to be done to rectify the risks found.

Penalties

Penalties of up to £5,000 can be issued for fire safety offences in schools. Significant breaches can attract unlimited fines and a maximum prison sentence of up to two years.

The Financial Impact of School Fires

School fires cost an estimated £100 million a year, according to the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Fires also rob schools of learning facilities and memories created by pupils and teachers.

A devastating fire that swept through Woodmill High School in Scotland during the summer of 2019, incurred costs close to £1 million.

Although insurers took most of the financial hit, Fife Council had a hefty insurance excess bill of £250,000.

Parts of the school building had to be refurbished. The council had to find alternative accommodation for 1,400 pupils.

School fires cost an estimated £100 million a year, according to the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Fires also rob schools of learning facilities and memories created by pupils and teachers.

A devastating fire that swept through Woodmill High School in Scotland during the summer of 2019, incurred costs close to £1 million.

Although insurers took most of the financial hit, Fife Council had a hefty insurance excess bill of £250,000.

Parts of the school building had to be refurbished. The council had to find alternative accommodation for 1,400 pupils.

What Are the General Fire Safety Precautions?

Fire Doors

Fire rated doors work by delaying the spread of fire and smoke through a building. They also protect the structural integrity of a building, reducing the likelihood of the building collapsing due to a fire. High risk areas like science labs and school kitchens benefit from specialist fire doors because of the activity that happen within them.

Fire doors in schools must be rated, installed and maintained by a competent person.

Active Fire Precautions

Automatic and manual suppression equipment, like fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, must be spread across the school estate. Sprinklers are useful automatic suppression systems for fires that happen outside of school hours.

Staff Training

Training staff is crucial so they know how to prevent fires and what to do in the event of a fire. It equips them with lifesaving knowledge and helps the school in their commitment to keeping everyone safe. Human Focus offers a fire safety awareness training course and a course on how to carry out a fire risk assessment. If you’re the responsible person for a school, make sure your team is trained to keep a look out for fire hazards on the premises.

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Beverly Coleman
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