25 June 2014

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 schools. 

Unfortunately each year in England and Wales more than 1,300 schools suffer fires large enough for the Fire and Rescue Service to be called out, with costs estimated at over £60 million. Each premise must have a fire risk assessment.

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. 

Occupied by staff and pupils 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 school 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 Governors may wish to contract a ‘competent person’ to conduct the fire risk assessment. However, the school’s Governors 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 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. All these are available to download.