Each year in England and Wales, more than 1,300 educational buildings suffer fires large enough for the fire and rescue service to be called out. Each commercial building must therefore have a fire risk assessment, writes the Fire Industry Association
There has been a 34 per cent increase in school fires in London in just one year, new London Fire Brigade figures show. There were a total of 90 fires in preschools, nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools in 2017, up from 67 in 2016.
Most notably this year, a school in Dagenham was up in flames the day before term was due to start after the summer holidays. Although the cause of this particular fire was not reported in the press, it is an often quoted fact that schools are often the target of arsonists in the holiday period. As a result, it is vital to protect the school – and the children within – from the risk of fire.
Unfortunately, each year in England and Wales more than 1,300 educational buildings suffer fires large enough for the Fire and Rescue Service to be called out, with costs estimated at over £60million. Each commercial building must have a fire risk assessment.
How well do you know your fire legislation?
Fire safety legislation is often complicated and many people are unaware of their legal duties. In England and Wales, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to all non-domestic (or commercial) premises such as nurseries and schools.
In particular the person carrying out the fire risk assessment must identify and reduce the fire risk by managing fire safety procedures, taking account of those particularly at risk; fire drills, evacuation and training; means of escape, signs, notices and emergency lighting; fire protection equipment and fire door maintenance.
For clarity, fire safety legislation in the UK is enacted differently under the three jurisdictions of England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland:
In England and Wales it’s the Regulatory Reform (fire safety) order 2005. In Scotland, it’s the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006. In Northern Ireland it’s the Fire and Rescue Services Order 2006 and the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.
The differences between the three regions is nothing to worry about as they are largely identical in terms of where they apply and what people have to do to comply with them. We’ll consider them as one law in this article.
Where does the law apply?
The law applies to virtually all premises and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space.
It does not apply to people’s private homes, including individual flats in a block or house. In England and Wales the law applies to the common parts of flats and HMOs, but not in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Broadly, the law does not apply to the underground parts of mines or off-shore installation. It also doesn’t apply to anything that flies, floats or runs on wheels unless it is static and being used like a building, e.g. work in dry dock.
Who is responsible?
The person responsible for fire safety is anyone who has, to any significant degree, control of the premises (e.g. the owner and the managing agent); has control over the activities on the premises (occupier); or anyone who employs people.
In many instances this will be a company or other organisation. They are responsible for the safety of people who may be legitimately, on the premises or people who are not on the premises but mightbe directly affected by a fire on the premises.
In many cases, responsibility may be shared between several people but it is not the responsibility of the fire service or any other statutory body.
Fire risk assessments
Occupied by staff and children during the day, educational premises make for a complex and busy environment. The fire risk assessment needs to take into account the types of people using the building and any special needs they may have. Out of nursery hours there may be sports clubs, evening classes and/or meetings, while over the holidays there may be extended periods when the buildings are unoccupied and be particularly vulnerable to arson. The risk assessment will consider any hazards/risks in the building and areas such as the IT room or an administration office with valuable equipment which need additional protection.
Due to the complex nature of the educational premises the school’s management team may wish to contract a ‘competent person’ to conduct the fire risk assessment. However, the school’s management team remain legally accountable so it is important that the fire risk assessor is able to demonstrate a suitable level of competence.
All fire protective measures must be safe, reliable, efficient, effective and ready for use at all times. Fire safety law requires that there is a suitable system of maintenance for all fire protection equipment/systems. These checks make sure that any faults or failings will be found and rectified quickly. It is recommended that installation and maintenance of fire protection equipment be carried out by a competent person who has Third Party Certification.
If the Fire and Rescue Service is not satisfied with the safety measures they will advise what you need to do. If they find major problems they can serve an enforcement notice requiring safety improvements and/or close the building until sufficient measures are in place.
The Fire and Rescue Service can also prosecute educational establishments under the Fire Safety Order, as a school in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, found to its cost.
The governing body of St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School pleaded guilty to breaching fire safety regulations, following a prosecution brought by Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority. The governing body pleaded guilty to breaching three articles of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, including failure to take general fire precautions, failure to adequately implement the findings of a fire risk assessment and failure to appoint fire wardens. It was fined £2,250 and ordered to pay costs of £5,750.
Fire authorities are the main agency responsible for enforcing the law. Fire authorities will look into complaints, carry out investigations after fires and carry out targeted inspections. Where poor fire safety management is discovered they may prosecute.
If there is a very serious risk to life, the fire authority can issue a notice preventing the premises being used for certain things, or preventing people from using all or part of the premises.
Fire certificates and old legislation
Old legislation used to require the Fire Brigade or Local Authority to issue a Fire Certificate for certain classes of premises. These are no longer issued and those previously in force will have no legal status but don’t throw them away. Any fire certificates you have may be useful as a starting point for your fire risk assessment.
What do you need to do?
The person responsible (or persons if there are more than one), must make sure that everyone is safe from fire. If that is you, you or a person engaged by you must carry out a fire-risk assessment to determine what the risks are and to identify those measures necessary to minimise the risk to an acceptable level.
The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has a number of free documents to help duty holders understand their fire safety duties: their Best Practice Guide; a Guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor and a whitepaper explaining Third Party Certification. These can all be found under the ‘Fire Safety Advice’ section of the FIA website under the ‘Resources’ tab.
To download the above information, and find out more about your fire safety responsibilities, or even to find a fire protection company to assist with your fire protection, contact the FIA on the details below.