How can fire safety in schools be improved?

fire safety in schools

    It might surprise many to learn that schools in England are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a fire as other types of commercial buildings, according to research from insurance company, Zurich Municipal.

    Fire risks in schools

    The insurer attributes this to a number of reasons including:

    • The size of the buildings (and bigger and older schools were deemed to be even more at risk)
    • Malfunctioning equipment, faulty electrics, and arson
    • The regular presence of cooking equipment
    • Two thirds of schools lacking adequate fixed fire protection measures, such as sprinklers
    • A quarter of schools being rated ‘poor’ for fire detection

    These issues have resulted in nearly 2,000 school blazes in the last three years. And follow recent calls for sprinklers to be made mandatory in schools in England. Larger fires in schools cost on average £2.8 million to repair and in some cases over £20 million. Sprinklers are compulsory in all new or major refurbished school buildings in Scotland and Wales. But this is not the case in England. In fact, they are fitted in fewer than one in six new schools,  Zurich believes .

    Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s Head of Education, commented: “An alarming number of school buildings pose a high fire risk – yet many are poorly protected against a potential blaze. Unless Ministers bring England into line with other parts of the UK, where sprinklers are mandatory, large fires will continue to blight schools. This is harming children’s education and putting lives at risk.”

    Nick Coombe, Protection Vice Chair and Building Safety Programme Lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: “The case for sprinklers is compelling. Of almost 1,000 fires over five years in buildings where sprinklers were fitted, our research found they controlled or extinguished blazes in 99% of cases.  Sprinklers can dramatically reduce fire damage, making the reopening of a school much easier. This not only minimises the disruption to a pupil’s education, but also the impact on their family, the community, and the wider education establishment.”

    Further safety research

    According to the Fire Industry Association (FIA), one in 20 schools experience fire with almost 60% started deliberately.

    A spate of maliciously activated hoax fire alarms in several colleges has led multiple bodies to condemn this reckless behaviour. These include Council Chiefs, the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service. They warn that the unnecessary emergency callouts could stop genuine emergencies being attended and even result in a ‘needless tragedy.’ One school was evacuated seven times in the first 12 days of a new term due to hoax fire alarms. Fire crews attended one school on seven occasions in one week, due to pupils repeatedly setting off the fire alarm.

    This underlines the importance of fire alarms in schools having anti-vandal alarm call points to deter pupils from causing unwanted false fire alarms.

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    *Data was taken from 26,800 schools in England. The analysis shows that the average fire risk is almost double that of most other non-residential buildings.

    The information contained within this blog is provided solely for general informational and educational purposes and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Before taking any actions based upon this information, we advise the reader to consult any and all relevant statutory or regulatory guidance and where felt necessary to consult a qualified fire or industry regulation professional. The use or reliance on any information contained herein is solely at the reader’s risk.

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