Education & Fire Safety

Each year in England and Wales, more than 1,300 educational buildings suffer fires large enough for the fire and rescue service to be called out. Each commercial building must therefore have a fire risk assessment, writes the Fire Industry Association. 

There has been a 34 per cent increase in school fires in London in just one year, new London Fire Brigade figures show. There were a total of 90 fires in preschools, nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools in 2017, up from 67 in 2016.

Most notably this year, a school in Dagenham was up in flames the day before term was due to start after the summer holidays. Although the cause of this particular fire was not reported in the press, it is an often quoted fact that schools are often the target of arsonists in the holiday period. As a result, it is vital to protect the school, children, staff and any visitors from the risk of fire.

How well do you know your fire legislation?

Fire safety legislation is often complicated and many people are unaware of their legal duties. In England and Wales, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to all non-domestic (or commercial) premises such as nurseries and schools.

In particular the person carrying out the fire risk assessment must identify and reduce the fire risk by managing fire safety procedures, taking account of those particularly at risk; fire drills, evacuation and training; means of escape, signs, notices and emergency lighting; fire protection equipment and fire door maintenance.

Who is responsible?

The person responsible for fire safety is anyone who has, to any significant degree, control of the premises (e.g. the owner and the managing agent); has control over the activities on the premises (occupier); or anyone who employs people.

In many instances this will be a company or other organisation. They are responsible for the safety of people who may be legitimately, on the premises or people who are not on the premises but might be directly affected by a fire on the premises.

In many cases, responsibility may be shared between several people but it is not the responsibility of the fire service or any other statutory body.

One of the main factors if you decided to carry out your own fire risk assessment would be regulation & knowledge of standards. Do you know the latest regulations which you must adhere to whilst carrying out the assessment? Can you be sure the standards you are using for guidance are the latest available? This is one of the biggest risks when carrying out your own assessments.  

Fire risk assessments

Occupied by staff and children during the day, educational premises make for a complex and busy environment. The fire risk assessment needs to take into account the types of people using the building and any special needs they may have. Out of hours there may be sports clubs, evening classes, Parties and/or meetings, while over the holidays there may be extended periods when the buildings are unoccupied and be particularly vulnerable to arson. The risk assessment will consider any hazards/risks in the building and areas such as the IT room or an administration office with valuable equipment which need additional protection.

Due to the complex nature of the educational premises the school's management team may wish to contract a 'competent person' to conduct the fire risk assessment. However, the school's management team remain legally accountable so it is important that the fire risk assessor is able to demonstrate a suitable level of competence.

All fire protective measures must be safe, reliable, efficient, effective and ready for use at all times. Fire safety law requires that there is a suitable system of maintenance for all fire protection equipment/systems. These checks make sure that any faults or failings will be found and rectified quickly. It is recommended that installation and maintenance of fire protection equipment be carried out by a competent person who has Third Party Certification.

If the Fire and Rescue Service is not satisfied with the safety measures they will advise what you need to do. If they find major problems they can serve an enforcement notice requiring safety improvements and/or close the building until sufficient measures are in place.

Prosecutions

The Fire and Rescue Service can also prosecute educational establishments under the Fire Safety Order, as a school in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, found to its cost.

The governing body of St. Joseph's Catholic Primary School pleaded guilty to breaching fire safety regulations, following a prosecution brought by Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority. The governing body pleaded guilty to breaching three articles of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, including failure to take general fire precautions, failure to adequately implement the findings of a fire risk assessment and failure to appoint fire wardens. It was fined £2,250 and ordered to pay costs of £5,750.

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Enforcement

Fire authorities are the main agency responsible for enforcing the law. Fire authorities will look into complaints, carry out investigations after fires and carry out targeted inspections. Where poor fire safety management is discovered they may prosecute.

If there is a very serious risk to life, the fire authority can issue a notice preventing the premises being used for certain things, or preventing people from using all or part of the premises.

What do you need to do?

The person(s) responsible, must make sure that everyone is safe from fire. If that is you, or a person engaged by you must carry out a fire risk assessment to determine what the risks are and to identify those measures necessary to minimise the risk to an acceptable level.

We would always advise that a fire risk assessment is carried out by qualified assessors. If you need to have a fire risk assessment carried out please contact us.   

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