Fire safety on educational premises is extremely important. It’s the responsibility of the headteachers, governors, vice-chancellors, occupiers and owners of educational premises to look after the safety and well-being of all students that use the site. Students of all ages need to be able to learn and grow in an environment that they feel they are safe in. A safe school, university or college also needs to ensure the safety and security of all employees and visitors including teachers, cleaners, parents. A big part of this safety is taking the appropriate precautions to respond to a fire.
Fire safety risk assessments involve a review of a building to assess its fire risk and offer recommendations to make it safer. It is an organised and methodical look at your premises, the activities carried on there and the likelihood that a fire could start and cause harm to those in and around the premises. The aim of a risk assessment is to identify potential hazards, to reduce the risk of these hazards causing harm and to decide what fire precautions and management arrangements are necessary to ensure the safety of everyone who uses the building.
What happens in a fire safety risk assessment?
During your risk assessment, the first step is to identify potential fire hazards. For a fire to start it needs three things; a source of ignition, fuel and oxygen. Because a fire needs all three of these things to start, it’s important to take precautions to prevent these from coming together. This step includes how to identify potential ignition sources, the materials that might fuel a fire and the oxygen supplies that will help it burn.
The next step identifies people at risk if a fire does break out. This determines what areas students and staff will be on-site and what areas they will be occupying. This also includes other members that may be at risk such as members of the public, visiting contractors etc. There will be particular individuals that are at higher risk and will need more attention.
- Students in unsupervised areas
- Pupils or students with language difficulties
- Employees who work alone or in isolated areas
- People unfamiliar with the premises
- People with disabilities
- People who have some reason for not being able to leave the premises quickly such as young children or babies, people with special needs or the elderly
- Other people in the immediate vicinity of the premises
The third step is evaluating, removing, reducing and protecting from risk. The management of the premises and the way people use it will have an effect on your evaluation of risk. Evaluating the chance of a fire igniting depends on how many ignition sources and combustible materials are on site.
Typically, fires start in one of three ways:
- Accidentally – smoking materials not being properly extinguished or lighting equipment being knocked over.
- By act or omission – electrical equipment not being properly maintained or waste accumulating near a heat source.
- Deliberately – such as an arson attack
It’s important to look critically at the premises and figure out what accidents could happen or acts of omission that could lead to a fire starting. Schools are at the top of the list of buildings that are most at risk of arson.
It is unlikely that there is no risk of fire. So at this point, the risk assessment will need to evaluate the risk to the people that are on your premises. It should also be determined how likely an incident is to happen, but it’s important to consider that many unlikely events can put the most amount of people at risk.
The next step includes removing or reducing the hazards. If the hazard cannot be completely removed then it requires reducing it as much as possible. This is an essential part of the fire safety risk assessment and any attempt to reduce or remove a risk should not be substituted with other hazards or risks. This will involve removing sources of ignition, source of fuel and sources of oxygen where possible to ensure the safety of students, staff and members of the public.
Fire detection and warning systems
Once your fire safety risk assessment has been carried out, the next step is to ensure that current fire detection and warning systems are working or if extra systems need to be added. Smaller educational facilities such as single storey village primary schools will need less extravagant systems as a fire will most likely be very obvious. However, larger educational premises such as university campuses or colleges will require more detection systems and fire alarms because a single fire alarm is unlikely to be heard from all areas of the site.
There are considerations that need to be taken for schools when considering a fire alarm system because often a bell is used to signify the end and start of lessons. This means there needs to be a fire alarm that is distinguishable from the normal bell and that all known users of the building are aware of the differences. These systems can either be triggered by manually operated call points such as break glass boxes or through an automatic detection system. An automatic detection system is more appropriate if there are many unsupervised areas that could lead to escape routes being blocked if the fire is able to spread without anyone realising it.
A Fire Safety company will be able to perform risk assessments as well as inform you if the current fire alarm and detection system you currently have in place is adequate and advise you on any changes they believe should be made.
Firefighting equipment and facilities
Another vital aspect of fire safety within educational premises is to ensure you have the correct equipment to extinguish a fire should one start. If a small fire was to start, fire extinguishers offer a quick method of eliminating the fire before it causes a problem. For example, this could be a fire in a waste paper bin. However, the most important part of fire safety is to ensure the safety of staff and pupils by evacuating as quickly as possible. The first course of action is to raise the alarm and get everybody to safety at the designated fire assembly points.
People that haven’t had any training should not be expected to use a fire extinguisher but all staff should be familiar with the location and operation of fire safety equipment. You may want to assign fire marshals as a part of fire safety who will be provided with comprehensive training. The fire equipment should include the main types of fire extinguishers or have one or two appropriate for the premises ready for use.
Fire safety checklist
- Are the extinguishers suitable for the purpose?
- Are there enough extinguishers on-site?
- Are the right types of extinguishers located close to the fire hazards
and can users get to them without exposing themselves to risk?
- Are the extinguishers easy to see and gain access to?
- Have you taken steps to reduce the misuse of extinguishers?
- Is the equipment checked and maintained regularly?
- Are daily checks carried out to ensure access for emergency vehicles?
- Is there someone competent to test the equipment and alarms?
- Do you have the necessary procedures in place to maintain any facilities
that have been provided for the safety of people in the building (or for the
use of firefighters, such as access for fire engines and firefighting lifts)?
Once a fire has started, been detected and a warning given, everyone in your premises should be able to escape to a place of total safety unaided and without the help of the fire and rescue service. The type and occupancy of the educational facility will determine the escape plan. For example, premises with small children, disabled people or the elderly, will need to ensure a plan is in place to assist any vulnerable people off-site and teachers, lecturers and staff will need to be assigned this responsibility. Escape routes need to be established, with clear signs and with multiple options to ensure everyone is able to safely make it to an assembly point.
EK Fire Protection – Risk assessments and fire alarms
Are you the owner or manager of an educational facility? If so, you have the responsibility to ensure the safety of all students, staff and members of the public that visit the site. Schools, universities and other educational premises can have large amounts of people regularly using the facilities. Therefore, it can often be a big task to ensure an effective risk assessment is carried out and the right fire equipment and escape routes are established.
EK Fire Protection offer risk assessments and fire alarm systems for workplace environments to ensure the safety of everyone that uses them. To learn more about our services and what we can provide for you, visit our website.