Thousands Of Schools In The UK Have ‘Poor’ Fire Protection
Obtaining an education is a necessity for anyone aged between 5-18 in the UK, and for the majority of children and adolescents, this education will be through a public or state school. With children spending around 13 years in a school environment, you would assume that they would be one of the safest places to be. However, a new study has highlighted that fire safety standards within schools are sub-par. Zurich Municipal, who insures about half of all schools and universities in the UK, has written to the government calling for urgent action to improve fire protection in school premises after carrying out inspections at 1,000 sites over the past two years.
In August 2019, the company issued a letter to the
Department for Education calling on the government to take urgent action to protect school premises and communities by updating the relevant building regulations and building bulletin standards to make sprinkler systems mandatory in all new and major refurbished schools in the UK. This legislation has already passed in Scotland. The letter was signed by industry bodies such as; Association of British Insurers, Fire Protection Association, National Education Union, National Fire Chiefs’ Council and many others.
The study highlights the differing standards of fire safety throughout the country:
Southern England is the least equipped for fire risk management Scotland (where sprinklers are a legal requirement in schools) has almost 29% of their schools rated ‘excellent’ in regards to their fire risk management England sees only 5% of schools achieve ‘excellent’ in regards to their fire risk management Schools in Scotland, East Midlands, North East and Yorkshire & Humberside achieved the most positive scores for fire risk management
Zurich Municipal’s study also uncovers the five biggest failures when it comes to fire risk management in schools:
Lack of fixed fire protection Building combustibility and modern construction methods Fire detection Arson Housekeeping and smoking control
With more than 1,000 fires in school premises every year, which cost on average £2.8m for the larger incidents, Zurich Municipal has called for action to prevent needless disruption to the educational continuity of children.
We spoke to Wayne Dunning, Health & Safety Director at ELAS, to discuss this call for action within schools:
“From my experience in undertaking a fire risk assessment in some schools I have come across establishments that have out of date risk assessments or worse, lack a fire risk assessment! The consequences of a fire outbreak within a school can be devastating. The corridors will be filled with smoke affecting vision and breathing, the fire will be seeping through open doors and corridors as well as panic sweeping the building. Worst case scenario will also see pupils and teachers severely and even fatally injured. The devastation will also impact the education of the pupil’s as well as the careers of the teachers. This is why it is vital that risk assessments and continiutiy plans are taken seriously and are up to date. “I have also found that although some schools have the correct fire risk management practices in order, sometimes the staff are not appropriately trained. This means that whatever is in the risk management plan can become redundant in a matter of moments. It isn’t just teachers who need to be fully briefed, so do your external contractors such as cleaners and maintenance team. I undertook a school visit a few years ago at a school where a florescent lighting system caught fire whilst only the maintenance team were in the building. Luckily, they managed to extinguish the fire, but it shows the importance of what the correct training and knowledge can do. “With regards to sprinklers, yes these are brilliant to isolate or contain an area such as a classroom, but there will be a cost. However, this cost is considerably cheaper than rebuilding an educational premise and everything else that goes with it.”
On top of the failing standards, essential fire safety checks are becoming less frequent meaning it is hard to assess, monitor and improve fire safety standards within businesses. David Whitaker, one of our Health & Safety Consultants, explains this further.
“Fires have caused many fatalities over the years hence the legislation requirements for ‘responsible persons’ to manage fire risk in premises. The Fire and Rescue Services can enforce the fire regulations on businesses but unfortunately they cannot visit all premises across the UK to do this. The onus therefore is on the company’s responsible person to ensure the safety of all persons throughout their premises. “Audits of fire systems and processes are dropping due to a combination of reasons including ignorance of the law and its requirements, the Fire and Rescue Services being unable to enforce all relevant premises within the UK, businesses stating they do not have time and/or people to carry out audits and even budgetary constraints to put suitable processes (and people) in place etc.”
Due to the complexity of fire risk assessments they need to be carried out by competent persons. At ELAS, we can also act as your ‘responsible person’ meaning you can leave the fire safety management to us. The government recommends that all businesses should have their fire safety management carried out by an approved third party supplier. As we’re BAFE approved, we are one of the companies the government suggests you should use.
What’s more, unlike other companies, we can carry out fire risk assessments on your behalf. We won’t signpost you to a portal to download a template and fill it in yourself through guess work. We will work with you step by step to complete it, or if you prefer, we will carry it out and simply send it back to you!
For more information on our fire risk management service contact our team today on 08450 50 40 60.