Fire safety in schools helps us to take care of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. And with school fires on the increase in London, last year, there is evidence that good fire safety in schools is not being practiced routinely.
What’s worse, schools are, reportedly, popular targets for arson. Unoccupied at night, they are also attractive to vandals and trespassers. Any one of these elements can compromise your fire safety so it pays to be vigilant. Fires in schools cause major disruption to staff, pupils and parents.
That’s where the Silver Group can help. Working with schools is something we’re already experienced in. Over the years, we’ve helped many clients meet their Ofsted safeguarding obligations.
In this blog, we’ll look mainly at your fire alarm system but also at other aspects of fire safety. If you’re a school building manager, you’ll be the ‘responsible person’. This means, under UK law that the buck stops with you if something happens as a result of a fire. If everything is well organized and in line with regulations, you’ll be fine. But if not, you could face a substantial fine, or worse, a prison sentence.
Whose job is it to sort out the fire alarm system?
Schools are high-risk buildings. Most areas are high-traffic, there are a range of activities taking place and children do not always take precautions. Prior to the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, schools were not identified specifically in fire safety legislation. Local authorities were expected to maintain them and keep them in good order.
The RRO changed everything by introducing the concept of the responsible person. Who this person is, differs depending on the type of business or organisation. In a school, it may be the headteacher, a member of the governing body, or a facilities/building manager. So, if that’s you, you need to be clear on your duties. What’s expected of you to ensure fire safety in your school?
One of the responsible person’s main jobs is to make sure there is an ‘appropriate’ fire alarm installed on the premises. You may already have experience in this area and be confident that you know what’s required. If not, it’s definitely worthwhile speaking to a fire safety supplier. They’ll recommend you carry out a fire risk assessment (another legal requirement for you as the responsible person).
What’s involved in choosing a fire alarm for my school?
There are a huge range of alarm systems available. Your building layout and usage will usually determine what type of system you need. Fire alarm design is the first step on the path to fire safety in your school. A well-designed system will, in the long run, save you time and money as well as keeping everyone safe. It will also reduce the risk of false alarms which do the exact opposite. They waste time and money in large amounts!
First, we suggest you take a look at your fire risk assessment. It will describe where your fire safety vulnerabilities lie and how to address them. A reputable fire safety company can then work with you to install the right alarm system. It should always confirm to British Safety Standard 5839-1.
Schools come in all shapes and sizes but there are obvious hazards in certain areas, such as:
Heat and naked flames are almost guaranteed in a school kitchen. Whoever designs your detection and alarm system will recommend the best equipment for you. Heat detectors are useful as is supplementary equipment such as fire extinguishers and fire blankets.
Do you store chemicals in your school lab? A few Bunsen burners at the very least? Senior schools with large campuses can have sophisticated equipment on the premises. Make sure you do a thorough risk assessment and plan accordingly.
Gyms don’t immediately spring to mind as fire sensitive locations, but they do contain a lot of rubber. And rubber is highly flammable, so while fire might not start there (without a spark), if fire spread to the gym, it could quickly intensify. Has your gym been highlighted in your fire risk assessment?
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to fire alarm systems
As we talk about here, there is a multitude of equipment to choose from. On top of that, manufacturers are constantly competing to upgrade their ranges taking advantage of new technology.
Like most products, fire alarm systems are available at different price points. You can choose from basic technology which gets the job done, or upgrade to systems which have extra sensitivity built in to detect fires as early as possible.
There are three main types of alarm: conventional, addressable and wireless. Conventional alarms only really suit small or low-risk buildings, so you may be advised against this. An addressable alarm is able to pinpoint the exact location of a fire which makes them ideal for schools. Wireless systems can also do this, but have the added bonus of being… yes, you guessed it! Wireless! In a school, however, this may be not be a priority as you’ll pay for the privilege of hidden cables.
Grades and categories: what’s what?
What grades are available and what do they mean?
Across all alarm systems, there’s a hierarchy of sophistication in terms of technology. At the top there is Grade A, at the bottom, Grade F. Remind you of being back at school?
Don’t worry about D to F as they only apply to residential property. You’ll just need to determine if you need Grade A, B or C. Currently, BS 5839 describes Grade A as a system with multiple alarm and detection features. That’s not to say you need a Grade A system; your fire risk assessment will have information about the grade of alarm you need.
Categories are determined by the occupants in your premises
Categories are different to grades. You could have two properties with the same category designation but different grades of alarm. First ask yourself: what protection do the occupants of my building need?
There are two main categories: P (for property) and L (for life). A P designation is common in empty buildings. So, in a school, you’re nearly always going to fall into a L category.
There are six such categories, from L1 to L5. There’s also M which stands for manual. Manual offers the most basic form of protection as it requires someone to manually operate a call point when they see a fire.
The remaining L categories offer some form of automatic fire detection. If your alarm falls into the highest category, L1, it will provide this in every room of the building including cupboards and circulation areas.
Again, your fire risk assessment can help you decide which one is most suitable. And then you can breathe a huge sigh of relief and let the professionals sort out the installation and commissioning. The latter simply means that they do a comprehensive test of the system and give it a real run for its money.
Fire alarm sorted. Job done?
No! Fire detection and alarm systems, are without doubt, the daddy of fire safety. But they can’t take care of every eventuality. Nor does every fire incident need to escalate to a fire alarm sounding. Small, localized fires can be managed with equipment such as fire blankets and fire extinguishers.
At the Silver Group, we have a wide range of products for you to choose from (as well as fire alarms) to meet all your fire safety needs. These include:
- Fire risk assessments
- Emergency lighting
- Fire extinguishers
- Fire door inspections
We know you’ll be approached by many companies who claim to offer a superior service. Remember that you’ll need to have peace of mind because you’re legally responsible for getting this right. Third party accreditation is a useful filter – if someone doesn’t have any, ask them why?
We’re accredited by a few organisations, including BAFE which is one of the most respected and trusted in the industry. To find out more about fitting the right fire alarm for your school today, give us a call. We’d love to help.