Fire Safety In The School
Note : This is a guide only and independent advice should be sought by a Qualified Fire safety consultant before any policy is changed or drawn up.
The 8 Building blocks which are required in a comprehensive Fire Safety Programme;
Block 1 – Who is in Charge?
There needs to be processes in place which support Fire Safety and a key element of this is appointing a person responsible for the implementation of the Fire Safety Programme
Block 2 – Fire Prevention
Daily fire prevention measures are a key component of a Fire Safety Programme and include identification and removal of potential hazards, from the premises & surrounding areas and frequent inspections
Block 3 – Staff Training
The safety of the school may depend on staff knowing how to react in an emergency. Therefore all staff, including temporary staff should be made aware of their role and receive adequate training.
Block 4 – Fire and Evacuation Drills for Management and Staff
Management & Staff should carry out drills regularly. (at least once a term) This helps establish the procedures which should be followed in an emergency
Block 4 – Informing the Public
At certain times, and on special occasions, there can be a large volume of people on a school premises. It is extremely important that visitors are aware of the Fire Safety precautions. This can be done by use of signage and by announcements before the start of an event.
Block 6 – Escape Routes
There are regulations around the provision and upkeep of escape routes and exit doors and a regular inspection & audit routine should be part of any Fire Safety Strategy. Maintenance should be carried out by Licensed Locksmiths who are familiar with the European Standards which apply to Fire Escape Doors. (see further below for details)
Block 7 – Inspection and Maintenance of Fire Protection Equipment
Although the inspection & maintenance of Fire Protection Equipment may be (and should be) carried out by a qualified person or company, (defined as a “Competent Person” in legislation) the responsibility to ensure it is done to the standard required lies with the person in control of the premises.
Block 8 – Keeping Proper Records
The keeping of fire safety records is an important element of the fire safety programme.
The person responsible for the implementation and ongoing management of the fire safety programme should keep a Fire Safety Register/ Fire Log Book to record all fire safety matters. The register should be kept on the premises at all times and should be available for inspection by the local fire officer and H.S.A Inspectors
The following data should be recorded in the register:-
(a) The name of the Person Responsible (and those nominated to deputise for him/her).
(b) The details of specific duties that have been assigned to staff.
(c) The details of instruction and training given to staff, and by whom.
(d) The date of each fire and evacuation drill, the names of staff taking part, and the type of exercise held.
(e) The type, number and location of fire protection equipment on the premises including water supplies, hydrants etc.
(f) The date of each test carried out on fire protection equipment and systems, along with brief comments on the results of the checks and actions taken (and by whom) to remedy defects.
(g) The details of all fire incidents and false alarms which occur and the action taken.
Fire Risk Assessment;
In order to establish whether the building blocks above are in place it is a good idea to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment. It is also the law. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires that a Fire Risk Assessment is carried out as part of an overall risk assessment.
A fire risk assessment is a detailed look at all elements of the School premises, takes into account the type of activity carried out there and the inherent risks therein.
The aims of the fire risk assessment are:
(a) To identify the possible causes of fire.
(b) To eliminate or reduce the risk of a fire starting
(c) To establish what fire precautions, equipment and management systems are required to prevent harm should a fire start.
The risk assessment must allow for all users of the school and specifically recognise the needs of those with physical and intellectual disabilities
In our experience schools are particularly vulnerable to fires that are deliberately set. In view of this, the risk assessment will have to specifically include the risk of arson. It is recommended that you start your risk assessment outside the school by assessing the potential arson risk and then work into the main school buildings. The risk of arson will be dealt with in more detail in our Blog – Security in the School.
Fire Safety Risk Assessment the Identification & Evaluation Checklist;
- Fire hazards
Identify sources of:
(a) Ignition eg electrics, naked flame, sparks from machinery, malicious intent
(b) Fuel eg papers, books, flammable liquids such as cleaning materials, maintenance materials, waste materials
(c) oxygen; an area with a lot of draughts can literally fan the flames
- People at risk
(a) Staff, Pupils and Visitors in and around the premises
(b) Those especially at risk, with special physical and intellectual needs
- Evaluate, Remove or Reduce the Risk
(a) Evaluate the risk:
(i) Of a Break out of Fire,
(ii) To people from Fire.
(b) Remove or reduce:
(i) fire hazards,
(ii) the risks to people.
By evaluating and upgrading where necessary; (this evaluation may require the input of an expert in Fire Safety)
(a) Detection and warning
(c) Escape routes
(e) Signs and notices
- Record, plan, inform, instruct and train
(a) Record significant findings and actions taken,
(b) Prepare an emergency plan,
(c) Inform and instruct relevant people,
(d) Co-operate and co-ordinate with others,
(e) Provide training.
(a) Keep the assessment under review.
(b) Revise where necessary.
What are the common causes of fire in schools?
1. Malicious fire / arson – this will be dealt with in more detail in our upcoming Blog – “Security In The School”.
2. Issues with General Housekeeping & Storage Practices
3. Electrical fires
4. Lack of Proper External Waste Management
In general, from every point of view including general Health & Safety waste material, particularly flammable leftovers from painting, building and maintenance should not be left on the grounds, unless securely stored
Where skips or bins are used these should be located 8 Meters away from the main building and secured in place if portable. The lids should be locked if possible (this also prevents fly tipping)
Where space does not allow for an 8 Meter gap, then this should be noted in the risk assessment as a potential hazard
The risk can be reduced by placing next to walls without doors or windows and avoiding areas with overhanging soffits.
Factors that can reduce the risk of fire spread to buildings can include siting waste receptacles against or facing masonry walls without windows and without combustible overhangs such as plastic or timber soffits.
If this is not possible consideration should be given to fitting a metal heat shield over the area and metal bins with metal locking lids is highly recommended.
It is best practice to empty all external rubbish bins daily and these should not be attached to combustible wall cladding
5. Poor Practice by and Increased Risks Associated with External Contractors.
The nature of the work carried out by contractors carries it’s own risk and this is made worse by the fact they are outside the direct control of the school.
All contractors should furnish a Health & Safety Statement in advance of the commencement of any contract and a method statement for individual jobs
The School’s Fire Safety Programme should also address control measures for contractors on the school property, as they can significantly increase the risk of fire and potentially cause obstruction to escape routes.
The Risks that Contractors cause can include;
(a) Use of Blow Torches, Welding Equipment and Spark Producing tools such as Angle Grinders
(b) Use & storage of flammable liquids such as petrol, paint thinners etc
(c) Causing damage to Fire Breaks. This is particularly prevalent when carrying out cabling work, for re wiring or phones & internet upgrades by drilling large holes in fire walls and not re-sealing properly
(d) Equipment left on site can cause fire and security problems, by building materials or scaffolding being used to cause damage or gain access
(e) the storage of materials and equipment in a manner which blocks or obstructs fire exits or can cause slip, trip & fall hazards.
A safety statement should be furnished by each contractor as well as a copy of their insurance cover.
In addition before the commencement of any work, a method statement should be provided which will include;
- How the work will be carried out,
- What tools and equipment will be used
- What hazards have been identified and what risk reduction methods have been put in place
- Where use of heat is necessary, a “hot work permit” system should be used. This documented permit requires confirmation from the contractor that fire precautions have been taken prior to, during and after hot work
See http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Topics/Fire/Fire_Prevention/#hot for details.
Fire detection and warning
A Fire Alarm System is almost a minimum requirement in schools.
It gives early warning of a Fire and allows safe evacuation and if monitored can automatically alert key holders and emergency services
Various levels of Fire Alarm System are available and more details will be available in our upcoming “Fire Alarms Explained” Blog but the following basic points should be followed.
- Systems should be installed and serviced by qualified persons in accordance with IS 3218
- Systems should have maintenance contract with a qualified company in place in accordance with I.S.3218
- A “responsible person” should be appointed to oversee the maintenance testing and use of the Fire Alarm.
- Outside of the maintenance contract, the system should be tested weekly by the “responsible person” and any issues logged
Emergency Lighting will be explained in more detail in our upcoming “Emergency Lighting Requirements” Blog, but in the meantime the following points should be noted.
- Most schools have an emergency lighting system (which comes on automatically in the event of a power cut)
- This needs to be maintained in accordance with I.S.3217 standard by qualified people.
- The system should be tested daily & weekly by a “responsible person” and Quarterly by a Qualified Person
There are 2 European Standards which apply to Fire Exit Door and locking devices.
These are EN179 and EN1125. These are dealt with in our “Guide to EN1125” but the following points are key;
- BS EN 179 – Emergency exit devices
This standard covers devices to be used in emergency situations where people are familiar with the emergency exit and its hardware and therefore a panic situation is most unlikely to develop.
Devices operated by a lever handle or push pad may therefore be used.
- BS EN 1125 – Panic exit devices
Experience relating to escape from buildings and general safety have made it desirable that doors at final exits in public buildings, places of entertainment, shops, etc should be fitted with panic devices operated by a horizontal bar. The emphasis for products covered by this standard is on safe exit rather than security.
In both cases these doors should only be worked on by Licensed Locksmiths who have a good knowledge & understanding of the standards.
Where there is a requirement for ancillary locking, there should be written & strict procedures in place to ensure that these locks are only used out of hours.
It is best practice and our advice that this is avoided wherever possible due to the potentially catastrophic consequences of the procedures not being adhered to.
Fire doors are designed to prevent the quick spread of fire & smoke and to give time to allow people to escape safely therefore the following points should be noted;
- Fire doors should have Fire Certified Self Closing devices to ensure the door closes properly every time. These should not be wedged open.
- There are electronic devices available which are either connected directly to the Fire Alarm, or which operate acoustically and automatically release the held open door when the Fire Alarm activates.
- Fire doors on cupboards or shafts should be kept locked at all times when not being accessed and a “Fire Door Keep Locked” sign should be on each door.
If you’d like further advice on how to ensure your school or college is compliant with Fire Safety legislation or an upgrade of your current system our team at Crothers Security can be contacted at 01-4567947 or firstname.lastname@example.org.