The impact of a large-scale fire would have devastating consequences to a school for all involved. Putting aside the unthinkable possibility of loss of life to staff and students, there are also logistical issues to consider including: dealing with the aftermath, loss of important school work, school closures, job losses and complying with investigations. Negligence in fire safety is not something a school governing body wants to contend with and so it is of the utmost importance to ensure fire protection is complied with. It is crucial that schools familiarise themselves with the information detailed below and understand the responsibility that they hold.
Fire Safety Responsibility within Schools
Fire safety within schools was previously the responsibility of the owning local authority until 2006 with the introduction of the Regulatory Reform of Fire Safety Order 2005 (also known as the Fire Safety Order). This order was introduced to standardise the fire safety requirements of all work places so as to protect people in the event of a fire in or around the premises.
One of the key changes that the order made, is that the responsibility of fire safety for schools was transferred from the local authority to a named ‘responsible person’ within the school. This tends to be either the head teacher or the school governing body; however, if any employee holding a fire safety obligation within their contract, like a maintenance manager, failed to carry out their duties, they would also be held responsible and liable for prosecution if necessary. Under the order, the responsible person is required to take general fire precautions to ensure the safety of the employees and students within the school and to ensure that the premises that they operate from is safe for all relevant persons. One of these requirements is to carry out a fire risk assessment, to identify any significant risks that can be reduced or removed and stating any other general fire precautions needed to ensure fire safety and compliance.
The government guide Fire Safety Risk Assessment – Educational Premises was published to assist the responsible person with completing the fire risk assessment along with outlining the basic fire safety measures required within schools to remain compliant.
What are the Fire Safety Requirements for Schools?
According to the Fire Safety Order, fire safety requirements can be divided into three groups: passive, active and fire safety management.
- Passive fire protection compartmentalises a building through the use of fire-resistant doors, walls and floors. Breaking a building down into smaller compartments slows the spread of fire and smoke preventing early structural collapse and allowing everyone inside the premises to safely evacuate. Passive fire protection is seen as a building’s ‘first responder’ to a fire. With the correct materials it allows the necessary time for safe evacuation and for active fire protection systems to kick in and suppress the fire.
- Active fire protection systems are installed to detect and suppress fires. This can range from smoke detectors to automatic fire suppression such as sprinklers that can minimise the damage caused by a fire.
- Fire safety management relates to the systems the school has in place to prevent a fire from occurring and what to do in the event of a fire including: an effective fire evacuation plan, fire safety training for staff and maintenance logs of installed fire protection systems.
The Role of the Responsible Person
As the designated responsible person for the school premises, it is their job to ensure that both the active and passive fire systems are installed and well maintained within the building. Building inspectors and fire safety experts will recommend that the work is carried out by a FIRAS accredited company. A company holding the FIRAS certification will have the knowledge and expertise to ensure that the work is not only done to the highest standards but in full compliance of the law which guarantees the safety of your employees and students.
In terms of fire safety management, it is the duty of the responsible person to prepare an evacuation plan, appoint fire marshals to assist with the evacuation and to arrange fire drills to take place frequently so the plan is rehearsed. Added consideration must be given to boarding schools where students may be asleep when a fire breaks out as well as evacuating students with reduced mobility.
In addition to an evacuation plan all schools must have a fire safety policy that includes the following details:
- An outline of the legislation and the guidance available
- A statement of intent regarding fire safety
- The name of the responsible person
- Policy for planned fire safety arrangements including an outline of fire protection systems
- Fire Safety induction for new employees
- The means for summoning the fire services
- Notes for the management of electrical equipment in the event of a fire
- A visitor book for signing in and out