There were 686 fires in schools in England in 2016-2017 according to UK fire statistics. When fire breaks out in a school, it can have a devastating impact not only staff, students and parents but the whole community. Whether vandalism or accidental, the cost of school fires – in monetary terms as well as the emotional toll and educational disruption – can be catastrophic. Small fires can mostly be extinguished successfully. However, for the rare and unexpected occasion when a larger fire takes hold, schools should be confident every effort has been made and every precautionary method taken to preserve life and property.
Here we take a look at best practice fire safety in schools and explain all about legal requirements and sensible steps to ensure all who use the building are kept safe in an emergency.
Assigning a responsible person
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order requires that all workplaces have fire precautions in place where necessary and that a ‘responsible person’ is instated. While in most workplaces the responsible person is the employer or anyone with control of the premises, in a school these duties may fall to the headteacher or the governing body. The responsible person must carry out fire risk assessment and ensure the necessary precautions are taken to protect the safety of ‘relevant persons’ (i.e all who use the school). It’s the role of the responsible person to help assess all fire risk and ensure that, as far as is reasonable, the needs of all relevant persons, including those with disabilities and additional needs, are met. A huge part of the assessment is identifying fire hazards and the people potentially at risk – they might be, for example, students working in unsupervised areas or people unfamiliar with the premises.
Installing fire protection measures
Once the presence of risk has been concluded (and removed as far as is possible), it’s crucial that steps are taken to reduce any remaining risk and that precautions are put in place. That means installing early warning systems such as smoke detectors and fire alarms. They allow for early warning to facilitate the fire escape plan. An evacuation plan is legally required in schools and it’s the job of the responsible person to oversee it, while fire drills should be held once a term at different times of the day. For as swift and fuss-free emergency exit as possible, schools must ensure appropriate signage is visible along all corridors and at each fire exit of the route.
Fire extinguishers in schools
Which fire extinguishers are installed where will depend on the size of the premises and the nature of the fire risk in any particular area. Most commonly fitted fire extinguishers include water (for wood, paper and solid material fires) and CO2, which tackle liquid and electrical fires. However, dry powder extinguishers are suitable for liquid and electrical fires, while foam extinguishers are recommended for areas deemed to be at risk from liquid fires. MultiCHEM is an ideal choice for schools thanks to its versatility and the fact it can be placed in a number of areas around the building. This multi-purpose fire extinguisher is capable of tackling fires in settings including the science lab, the design technology workshop and even the kitchen because of its ABF rating. It’s an all-round extinguisher that can handle various types of fire. Should an emergency occur, staff should be aware of the nearest extinguisher’s location and be trained to use it.
It’s vital – and the law – that every reasonable step is taken to protect students, staff and property against the risk of fire in schools. A thorough fire risk assessment is the best place to start and the ongoing maintenance of all fire protection equipment is crucial for peace of mind that in the event of an emergency the equipment will work as it should.