Fire safety

One school per week is completely destroyed by fire, often as a result of arson attacks.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 consolidates all previous fire safety legislation. It requires employers to carry out fire risk assessments to examine and control the likelihood of a fire starting, and the consequences of a fire if one were to start.

Fire safety management

Governors and headteachers/principals are responsible for ensuring that adequate systems are in place and that checks are carried out to reduce the risk of fire starting. Effective fire safety management in educational establishments will include the following:

  • ensuring that all members of staff are given adequate training and information (see What every staff member should know below)

  • fire evacuation drills should take place at least once a term, at different times of the day, with records kept of the drills and action taken to prevent the recurrence of any problems

  • clear fire instructions should be displayed in all buildings; escape routes should be clearly signposted and free from obstruction

  • fire doors should be clearly marked, kept closed, only opened in the event of a fire and be kept clear on both sides at all times

  • fire-fighting equipment, alarms and smoke detectors must be checked regularly by a trained person

  • adequate arrangements must be made for storing and disposing of flammable/combustible materials

  • electrical equipment should be serviced regularly to prevent fires

  • evacuation procedures should include arrangements for people with disabilities

  • appropriate measures are in place when buildings are in use outside normal hours.

Fire risk assessment

Risk assessment is at the heart of fire safety management. A fire risk assessment follows the same principles as any risk assessment:

  • Step one: Identify the fire hazards, eg what could start a fire, combustible materials, etc.

  • Step two: Identify people at risk (look at numbers of people, vulnerable groups and the likelihood of the fire spreading).

  • Step three: Evaluate the risks and implement control measures to remove or reduce the risk.

  • Step four: Record the findings and inform staff and safety reps.

  • Step five: Review and revise the plan as and when there are changes in work activities, the use of the building, etc.

Safety representatives should request a copy of the school or college fire risk assessments.

What every staff member should know

Fire safety procedures should be a part of induction for every new member of staff. In particular, staff should be informed of the following:

  • the fire risk

  • what to do if they discover a fire

  • raising the alarm

  • recognising the fire alarm and acting on it

  • calling the fire brigade.

Discovering a fire

If a fire is discovered, the first action is to raise the alarm so the occupants of the building know there is a fire and that they must leave. This is usually done by locating the 'break glass' call point.

There are many types of fire extinguishers used in schools and colleges. Staff that are not trained to use fire-fighting equipment should not waste time trying to make them work. Those who have been trained and nominated to use the equipment should not attempt to put out large fires. If a fire cannot be put out, the door should be closed and the building evacuated.

Arson prevention

The following measures should be taken to help prevent arson attacks:

  • the outside of premises should be well lit

  • regularly remove all combustible rubbish

  • secure waste bins separately from buildings

  • do not place rubbish skips adjacent to buildings

  • ensure the security alarm/fire detection system is monitored and acted on

  • secure entry points to premises, including windows and roofs

  • do not store materials next to windows or doors

  • encourage staff/students to report people acting suspiciously

  • secure flammable liquids so that intruders cannot access them.

Need further advice?

Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.

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