Fire Safety in Schools: How to Minimise Risk
Fire safety is important in any workplace. But with kitchens and hazardous materials regularly in use, and large numbers of staff and pupils to protect, fire safety is an important duty in a school.
Whether you’re the designated school fire warden, the person responsible for school health and safety, or just a member of staff, fire safety in schools impacts a wide range of people. In this article, we cover some of the main causes of fire in schools, explain how to prevent fires from starting, and explore why fire safety in schools is important.
Unfortunately fires in schools are not unusual. There is a range of different fire risks in schools that could develop into large-scale fires that put staff and students in danger, related to everything from equipment to human behaviour.
Here are some of the most common ways that a fire could start in a school.
Knowing the causes of fires in school is the first step to understanding where you need to implement fire safety measures.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 made it an obligation for all workplaces, including schools, to designate a ‘responsible person’ to be in charge of fire safety. They might work alongside fire wardens and fire marshals, but they should take charge of implementing a fire safety plan for schools, organising fire drills and delivering fire safety training.
If you work at a school, you should be aware of potential fire hazards and how you can prevent fires from starting in a school environment. You might be briefed about some of these fire safety measures during health and safety training, but some of them also just involve common sense and being aware of your surroundings.
As mentioned above, waste is a flammable substance and is often the cause of fires. Storing waste bins and wheelie bins in compounds away from the building and disposing of them regularly will reduce the risk of these becoming fuel for a fire.
There is likely already a ‘No Smoking’ policy in school that everyone must adhere to, including staff, parents, visitors and students. As well as enforcing this, make sure that students are educated about the fire risks connected with smoking so that they understand the potential consequences of ignoring this rule.
School subjects such as chemistry can involve flammable substances or equipment which could cause a fire. Make sure these substances and equipment are stored safely in ‘flammables’ cabinets and keep them locked when not in use. You should also make sure that only teachers can access these cabinets and that students are always supervised when using equipment that presents a fire risk.
Furniture and fixtures can help exacerbate a fire, so choosing fire-retardant options can reduce the risk of fire. If there is furniture in school that presents a particular fire hazard because of its material, consider swapping this for a safer option.
Schools often use large pieces of electrical equipment in drama classes, school plays or assemblies. Most classrooms will also have interactive whiteboards or projectors, which use a lot of electricity.
Make sure that any electrical equipment in schools regularly has a PAT test, as faulty electrical equipment can cause fires. It is also worthwhile unplugging equipment at night, where appropriate.
Fire doors can keep a fire at bay for up to an hour, but only if the doors are used correctly. Everyone in school should know to keep them shut, and if you see a fire being held open you must close it immediately.
One of the best ways to prevent fires in school is to ensure that all staff and students know the ins and outs of fire safety. This includes the causes, what to do in the event of a fire, and so on. Staff should also be trained in how to use fire safety equipment in schools, especially if they work in subjects like chemistry or home economics where fire risks are higher.
If you’re looking for fire safety training, we offer a comprehensive ‘Fire Safety for Fire Marshals and Wardens Training Package’ that covers all of the relevant topics involved in fire safety.
One of the most important fire safety procedures in schools is carrying out regular fire drills. This increases everyone’s awareness regarding fire safety, which not only reduces the risk of fire but also ensures the safety of everyone in an event of a fire.
Every school must designate someone to complete a fire risk assessment which must be updated regularly. They will help identify what precautions are needed to prevent fire risks in your school, and what to do if a fire does break out.
It cannot be ignored that arson causes a huge percentage of school fires. Many of these may be a joke that went out of control, but it is always worth considering how arson attacks can be prevented.
Reducing the risk and likelihood of arson is an important part of fire safety in schools. Here are some of the steps to take to reduce the risk and effect of arson.
An effective way to prevent arson is to deter and prevent unauthorised entry onto the site or into the building. Effective perimeter fencing, and keeping windows locked and secure will help deter and prevent access into the school, which will reduce arson from outside intruders or outside of school hours.
Another way to reduce the risk of arson is to remove combustible items on site which could be used to start a fire. Arsonists rarely bring their own flammable materials onto the site and instead use materials they find. Therefore, it is important to store potential items securely or make sure to prevent access to them. This is another reason why it is important to keep waste stored securely and disposed of regularly.
When the school building is closed, make sure that all moves have been made to make it safe in case of a fire. For example, closing the doors at night will contain the smoke and fire in one space, or at least slow down the rate that a fire spreads.
Fire safety is incredibly important in schools as it is part of the staff’s duty of care to keep students safe. If fire safety legislation isn’t followed and fire prevention measures aren’t put in place, pupils, staff and visitors all run the risk of being injured, with potential lifelong consequences.
Following fire safety guidelines for schools is also important because it stops school buildings from being damaged by fires. Not only can this cost schools a lot of money, but it can also be a barrier to schools being able to deliver teaching, which can impact pupils’ learning.
The importance of fire safety in schools is also connected to your school’s reputation. If a fire takes place and is found to have been caused by something preventable, your reputation as an educational establishment might be tarnished, which could lead to a decrease in pupils and potentially having to close.
Official guidance from the UK government advises that fire drills need to be carried out a minimum of annually in schools. However, it is advised that there is a fire drill at least once a term at school, as this ensures that everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire and helps identify any issues before a real fire takes place.
Fire alarms should be tested weekly in schools to make sure that they’re working properly. This should be done at the same time and on the same day every week so that people in the building don’t mistake the alarm for a fire drill or think that a real fire is happening.
During a fire incident in school, all staff have a responsibility to evacuate the building as quickly as possible and ensure that all students do the same. They should keep everyone moving in a calm and organised manner and make sure to check that classrooms and corridors are completely empty as they leave.
Some fires that take place in school are very minor and are usually dealt with quickly and without any major consequences. But some fires in school can have serious consequences, which is why it’s so important to follow fire safety tips and remove potential fire hazards as much as possible.
If you work in a school and are looking for fire safety training and advice, our ‘Fire Safety Training’ and ‘Fire Marshal and Warden Training’ are ideal for those wanting to learn more about how to prevent fires from starting.