Fire Safety - Frequently Asked Questions
Fire risk assessment
How often do I need to review my fire risk assessment?
The fire risk assessment should be reviewed annually, or sooner where there have been significant changes in the management and / or footprint of the school, in order to ensure that it continues to reflect the level of risk and controls in place within the school.
My fire risk assessment has been completed by a contractor is that sufficient?
Where fire risk assessments have been conducted by a third party then it should be ensured that the property focused protection measures raised are allied to the schools own priority life protection policies and management systems. We would advise supplementing any external risk assessment by utilising the fire risk assessment checklist available on the Grid.
If you require any further assistance / advice with regard to completing your fire risk assessment contact the Education H&S team.
What is a fire log book and do I need one?
A fire log book is simply a means of ensuring that all the relevant evidential paperwork relating to your fire risk assessment is held in a clear and co-ordinated manner.
We would suggest it contains:
- A copy of your fire risk assessment;
- A plan of the school noting location of notable risks / controls e.g. location of cylinders, chemical store, extinguishers, automatic detection, call points, service cut off points etc.
Fire extinguisher/alarm service maintenance reports;
- Record of fire evacuation drills
Records of in house testing and maintenance.
How many people can I fit in my school hall for an event?
Room capacities should be calculated based on number of fire exits / floor area, etc. and clearly identified in the fire risk assessment and communicated to any lettings. See
Fire: Room Capacity Calculation
Where should I store gas cylinders?
Cylinders used in the curriculum should be indicated by signage on the main entrance door to the block and on the door to that classroom / store. e.g.
The storage of such cylinders should also be marked on the school plan as part of the fire risk assessment.
Other fuel sources e.g. butane / propane bottles often used for PTA BBQs etc should be stored upright away from sources of ignition and/or combustibles in a secure, well ventilated external store located away from the school buildings (as far as space permits).
Are staff expected to use fire extinguishers?
The priority for staff is to ensure the evacuation of the building in the event of a fire. Teaching staff responsible for a group of students have a primary duty of care to the group which requires them to safely evacuate them in the event of any fire situation.
Those staff without supervisory responsibilities who may feel confident to tackle a fire in its early stages should have fire extinguishing equipment available that they may safely use in order to reduce the risk of a small fire, e.g. a fire in a waste-paper bin, developing into a large one.
Do I need to provide school staff with training in the use of fire extinguishers?
The Health and Safety regulations do not require people to be ‘trained’ in the use of fire extinguishers, what they do require is that staff receive instruction in their use.(that instruction can be provided in written or verbal form)
Such instruction should be proportionate to the level of risk involved and thus in a school context, basic instruction for all staff at induction in the type, location and suitability of extinguishers in case they need to use one would be deemed satisfactory.
Clear instructions for their use must be provided on the body of every extinguisher.
How many extinguishers should I have and where should they be?
Typically one water based extinguisher with a 13A rating, per 200M2 and a minimum of two per floor. Ideally no one should have to travel more than 30M to reach a fire extinguisher.
Where there are other particular classes of fire risk (e.g. flammable liquids etc.) then appropriate type, number and size of extinguisher should be provided near that specific hazard.
Extinguishers should be placed on escape routes close to the exit from a room or floor in order to encourage people to move toward an exit before locating an extinguisher, rather than walking further into the building to find the equipment.
What in house testing / maintenance do I need to conduct?
Schedules for inspection, testing and planned preventative maintenance of equipment such as the fire alarm system, fire fighting equipment and emergency lighting should be carried out and recorded as per ‘Fire Maintenance/Test Procedures’ document on the Grid.
A suitable method of recording the results of the above mentioned tests are also outlined within the same document.
My caretaker conducts the weekly call point test when there is no-one else on site to minimise disruption is that ok?
We recommend that the procedure be modified to include a short ’10 second’ test of the system whilst the school is populated, at least once a term. This test is to ensure that the fire alarm system is fully audible whilst the school is operating normally.
Staff should be made aware of this test and be asked to report any lack of audibility in any area of the school.
Do I need to have heat / smoke detection linked to the fire alarm?
Whilst a manual system (e.g. only break glass call points) meets legal minimum standard it would be good practice to supplement this with some automatic detection in higher risk areas (e.g. areas unoccupied during the day where a fire could potentially develop unnoticed, i.e. plant rooms, electrical intakes, kitchen, computer server rooms etc.)
Automatic detection can also be used as a compensating feature for buildings with inadequate structural fire protection, in dead end escape routes or where there are minor extended travel distances. Any such solution must be discussed with and agreed by the fire authority.
Schools with a residential sleeping risk must have automatic detection linked to the alarm system.
I’ve been told my fire alarm system is not to current standards do I have to replace it immediately?
The most common reason for this within schools is that the system is 240 V mains powered with no battery back up for the fire alarm, thus in the event of a power failure the school would have no means of easily raising an alarm throughout the school.
Schools in this situation should consider how an alarm would be raised in the event of a power failure. School procedures, instruction and training need to reflect the fact that on any loss of mains power, the school should be evacuated. An alternative means of raising the alarm must be put in place since the fire alarm would, at that point, be inoperable. This contingency should be recorded within the fire risk assessment as a significant factor
In the longer term, consideration should be given to the replacement of the existing fire alarm system to meet the current BS.
We’ve a Children’s centre / foundation stage / sports hall on site in a separate building (s) should our fire alarms be linked?
This should be determined based upon your fire risk assessment with consideration to their occupancy and proximity to other school buildings. In particular if members of the school could be resident within any other building at the time of a full evacuation of the school.
Where separate buildings do not have their alarms linked a management protocol should be produced in order that all persons using the other building can be accounted for during a complete evacuation of the school so that they do not to appear to be ‘missing’.
A suitable communication system must be in place between the non evacuated building and the person in charge of the incident, If the decision is made not to carry out complete evacuation.
Due to safeguarding concerns I need to ensure our site is secure, how can I do this where fire exit doors are freely available?
When fitting security devices, you must consider the risk of fire and not fit systems that will prevent escape from occupied buildings.
Doors fitted with ‘panic type furniture’ e.g. push pad / bar would ensure unauthorised access from outside is prohibited during the school day whilst emergency egress is always maintained.
The regulations require that doors on escape routes are readily available for exit at all times the building is occupied and can be opened without the use of a key or code and without having to manipulate more than one mechanism.
In certain circumstances where children are at risk of absconding proposed solutions must be discussed and agreed with the health & safety team.
Keys in break glass boxes adjacent to doors are not acceptable.
Such changes would need to be included in the schools fire risk assessment and would be appropriate for use only where occupants are familiar with the premises and pupils would at all times be supervised, this would need to be documented in your management procedures and recorded as a significant factor in the fire risk assessment.
We struggle to keep our fire doors closed due to constant pupil movement across the site, how can we manage this?
Many cross corridor doors and fire resisting doors fitted to protect stairwells suffer from constant use and when kept closed as required can cause additional safety problems due to the volume of pupils moving through the school.
Fire resisting self closing doors should be constantly maintained to ensure correct operation.
It may be possible to obviate the constant opening and closing of these doors by the fitting of ’magnetic’ hold open devices.
This option is available to schools where smoke detection is connected to the fire alarm system. The magnetic devices will hold the doors open during ‘normal’ use but allow them to close on actuation of the fire alarm system or failure of the power supply.
We control access with electro magnetic locks fitted to certain doors, are these acceptable on a means of escape?
Where a secure door is operated by a code, combination, swipe card or similar means, it should also be capable of being overridden from the side approached by people making their escape.
Any such doors must allow emergency exit and be integrated into the fire alarm system for automatic release in an emergency when the building is occupied.
This should be specified to installers and their operation checked by site staff during the weekly call point checks.
These locks must fail in the unlocked position and should do so automatically upon:-
- Operation of the fire alarm system;
- Loss of electrical power;
- Operation of an adjacent override;
- Loss of power to the fire alarm system;
- Any fault with the fire alarm system;
- Any tampering with the fire alarm system whether on planned maintenance or not.
The override must be clearly and conspicuously marked e.g. in emergency push button/break glass to open’
Sliding doors on escape routes should similarly conform to the criteria outlined above and slide to the open position.
Do all final exit doors need push bar / pads?
No, but doors on escape routes from rooms with an occupant capacity of more than 60 should either not be fitted with lock, latch or bolt fastenings, or be fitted with ‘panic furniture’ such as a push bar / pad or single acting handle.
In particular a thumb turn device is not suitable from an equalities perspective as it is not operable by people with reduced grip or motor function problems.
This type of lock may also be ‘inadvertently’ locked from inside whilst a room is occupied.