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School fire safety

With schools that are maintained by a local education authority, responsibility for fire safety is usually shared between the authority, the governing body and the Headteacher. Between them, they must ensure that fire precautions in such premises comply with all relevant health and safety legislation cited in this section, including regulation 17 of the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999.
This requires that every part of a school building, and of the land provided for a school, shall be such that the safe escape of the occupants in case of fire is reasonably assured.

Particular regard is given to:

  • The likely rate at which flames would spread across exposed surfaces.
  • Resistance to fire of the structures and of the materials of which the structures are made, and their other properties.
  • The means of escape in case of fire. With these schools, the local education authority usually assumes responsibility for the installation and maintenance of the fire alarm systems and the structural fire integrity of the buildings.

In independent schools, responsibility for fire safety generally rests with the proprietor, who is required to register the school under section 465 of the Education Act 1996. Registration will depend, amongst other things, on the provision and maintenance of adequate fire precautions.

Making a risk assessment

Health and safety responsibilities in schools include fire safety. In particular, the employer(i.e. with maintained schools either the local education authority or the governing body) is required:

  • to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees whilst they are at work, in accordance with regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (which are made under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974); and
  • the risks to the health and safety of other persons (e.g. pupils) whilst they are on the premises to record the significant findings of the assessment under regulation 3(6) of those Regulations where five or more people are employed (whether or not they are at work in the same school at any one time or at separate workplaces).

Where the assessment relates to general fire precautions, to be taken or observed by an employer in relation to the risk to the safety of employees in case of fire, it is Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service who have responsibility for enforcement.

In practice, Fire and Rescue Services will tend to concentrate activities on workplaces with a higher fire risk than schools (but provision of boarding accommodation is likely to influence their inspection programme).

The Home Office has produced guidance to accompany the Regulations, which is useful to read alongside this publication. The guide explains what fire risk assessment is and how to go about it. It also focuses on the provision of fire precautions in the workplace in the light of the findings of fire risk assessment.