08 Sep Is your School’s Fire Risk Assessment & Strategy fit for use?
School fires are unfortunately not uncommon, with an average of ten reported in the UK per week. Although serious injury to staff or pupils is extremely rare, the consequences of fire or smoke damage to a school building can be significant.
As well as the physical damage that a fire creates, there is also the administrative, educational and financial cost too. Even the reputation of a school can be harmed in cases where pupils’ education is disrupted for a significant length of time or the school is seen as a target for arsonists, for example.
Ensuring your school is compliant with stringent fire safety regulations as outlined in UK legislation is a legal requirement. Failure to meet these regulations can increase your risk of a fire breaking out in your school and lead to penalties or fines being imposed on your school. Penalties range from official Enforcement Notices to fines of up to £5,000, or even a prison sentence.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 provides the key guide here for schools, outlining general fire precautions that must be adopted by all educational premises, and it does seem to be working. The number of school fires has steadily decreased for more than a decade now, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
As any head teacher, governor or school owner is well aware, with budgets under so much strain and children’s education under pressure (and even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic), the need to protect, prepare and plan against the risk of school fires is even more critical.
Here we set out a checklist to help ensure your fire safety assessment and management is fit for purpose.
Appoint a Responsible Person
You are obliged to designate a ‘Responsible Person’ (RP) who is ultimately responsible for fire safety in your school. Often the RP is the head teacher, signifying the importance of the role. This person has overall responsibility for every element of your school’s fire safety and management.
Carry out a Fire Risk Assessment
It is also a legal responsibility of every school to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment and have it in writing. The main aim of any such assessment is to prevent a fire breaking out or minimise the effects of one should one break out.
Every Fire Risk Assessment should:
- Identify any specific fire hazards, like combustible materials
- Evaluate the chance of fire and potential fire risks, such as kitchens, flammable materials in storage or science laboratories
- Establish a risk level for all people attending the school, determining any special cases where individuals have limited mobility and are especially vulnerable
- Review existing safety measures and identify any additional measures required
- Record any instruction or training given to staff, pupils, or external agencies
- Keep a record of significant findings and updates
Introduce Fire Prevention & Safety Measures
There are many fire prevention methods which reduce the risk of fire and smoke spreading throughout the building:
- Install ‘fire-rated’ doors, which can also protect the structural integrity of the building
- Separate high-risk areas, like kitchens, from the rest of the school with specialist fire doors
- Install fire and smoke detection and alarm systems
- Invest in a sprinkler system
- Install fire extinguishers
- Make sure your fire signage and lighting are adequate
- Take care when storing flammable materials, ie, invest in a fire-resistant science laboratory storeroom
- Train your staff so they are looking out for fire risks or fire safety measures that have been compromised, i.e., fire doors that are lodged open, signage that has been removed or damaged, blocked fire escapes
Protect against Arson Attacks
A special mention should be given to arson, as sadly this continues to be a major cause of fires in the UK. Due to the nature of most schools, the risk of an attack is higher at night and during holidays.
Prevention measures against arson:
- Increase your security measures: lighting, burglar alarms, CCTV, fencing, secure skylights and windows
- Establish good relations with your neighbours
- Seek the support of your local police
Test Your Equipment and Make an Evacuation Plan
Maintain and regularly test all your fire detection and fighting equipment, including fire extinguishers, alarm systems, door seals and sprinkler systems, just to name a few. As part of your Fire Risk Assessment, you should be regularly reviewing their adequacy too.
Practice your Emergency Evacuation Plan at least once a term, including every element like marshalling the pupils to safety, roll calling, building sweep and any special support required to help individuals who are disabled or have limited mobility.
Make sure your Fire Wardens know their roles and limits – who is to raise the alarm, when and how to fight a fire, and when to evacuate and call the Fire Brigade. Encourage your staff to comment and give feedback on how fire drills have proceeded and act on suggestions on how to improve.
Train & Educate
Make sure your staff and pupils are fully aware of how to protect against fire and act in the case of fire. Education and training can save time and lives in an emergency.
Complete a School Fire Safety Policy and Put it in Place
Every school is obliged to complete a Fire Safety Policy, which is a summary of all the key information about your fire strategy.
The document should:
- Detail all staff roles and responsibilities in relation to Fire Safety
- Include your Fire Risk Assessment and any updates
- List all staff and pupil training sessions
- Include the Evacuation Plan and list the dates of fire drills and any adaptations made to the plan
- List the dates and details of all equipment testing
- Detail how you plan to respond in the case of fire
Your Fire Safety Policy should then be put in place by putting it on your website and communicating it to your parents and school governors, for example.
Carrying out these tasks does take time and cost money, but it’s vital, as well as being a legal responsibility of all schools. You may find it useful to outsource this task to KCS Compliance Services, as we are specialist providers of compliance services for schools and academies.
Contact us at KCS Compliance Services for further details or for a quote.