Schools, nurseries, or other places of education, like any other workplace, should refer to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) for fire safety guidance. The RRO sets out the need for schools to take general fire precautions to ensure the safety of employees and ‘relevant persons’. But what fire safety precautions are needed and who is responsible for school fire safety?
The person within any organisation or workplace who is ultimately responsible for fire safety is referred to by the RRO as the ‘Responsible Person’. In a school, the Responsible Person can be an individual or a group of people that share responsibility. This is often the Headteacher or Governing Body. The responsibility may also be shared if contractors are employed to manage fire safety precautions such as a Risk Assessor or Maintenance Engineer. These contractors would also have an obligation and could be prosecuted if they fail to carry out agreed fire safety duties.
The RRO sets out that the Responsible Person should:
The Responsible Person has a duty under the RRO to ensure a fire risk assessment has been carried out. A fire risk assessment (FRA) will identify any potential risks or hazards and will determine any precautions that should be taken, as well as identify who is at risk from a fire. Where five or more people are employed, the significant findings of the FRA need to be recorded. To assist the Responsible Person in carrying out the FRA and providing the basic fire safety measures, the government (England and Wales) has produced a guide entitled Fire Safety Risk Assessment - Educational Premises.
Safelincs have fully qualified fire risk assessors who can conduct a fire risk assessment at your site. Alternatively, a free fire risk assessment template is available to download for organisations who feel they have enough knowledge to conduct their own FRA.
Under the RRO, a school needs to have a fire risk assessment that takes into account all of its occupants. Special consideration may need to be taken for anyone with SEND or other disabilities, as well as mothers with pushchairs and other visitors to site. This will need to be regularly reviewed.
Fire doors form part of the school building’s passive fire protection system. They are designed to delay the spread of fire and smoke through the building, protecting the structure from collapse and protecting escape routes. The fire risk assessment will determine where fire doors are required.
It is imperative that fire doors are correctly maintained in order to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. This can be challenging in a school environment where fire doors are in constant use. Regular monitoring and fire door checks should be carried out to identify any issues. A fire door that is damaged, missing intumescent fire door seals, or is poorly fitted could result in it failing to contain the fire or toxic smoke for the specified length of time.
Safelincs offer a school fire door inspection service providing a report and advice on the condition of any existing fire doors. Following the report, our qualified team can work with your Responsible Person to resolve any issues. More information can be found in our guide to fire door maintenance.
Any new fire doors should always be fitted by a qualified person, ensuring that the correct hardware for the door is used and that the correct gap sizes around the fire door are adhered to. Safelincs can offer you a certified installation service for your new fire doors and door frames. Using accredited installers will ensure that you have peace of mind that your fire door has been installed correctly and meets all the relevant standards.
Propping fire doors open with objects such as door wedges, chairs or even extinguishers is a common issue in schools. Fire doors are heavy to operate and can make it difficult for students, staff and those with disabilities to move around the school. Staff are also often tempted to prop fire doors open to improve classroom ventilation. This bad practice could endanger lives and it is important to educate staff about this issue and the critical role of fire doors. Propping fire doors open with any object is illegal and the Responsible Person could be liable for prosecution in some situations.
A simple and safe solution to holding fire doors open is to install a fire door retainer or free-swing door closer. These legal devices will release the fire door automatically when the fire alarm sounds, allowing it to close to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. The Pro Fire Door Retainer System is ideal for schools as it allows for central monitoring of the status of all fire door retainer devices and does not falsely activate at any time. Holding fire doors open safely and legally also has many other benefits for schools including better ventilation and better accessibility for all, especially those with mobility impairments.
Quick detection of fire gives the best chance of escape for anyone on the school site. Fire alarm system requirements will be set out in the fire risk assessment. Safelincs offer a range of fire alarm systems including wireless options and can advise on an alarm suitable for your school premises. We can also arrange fire alarm installation anywhere in the UK.
A fire alarm system will only alert its occupants if it is properly maintained. As set out in the RRO, schools have an obligation to maintain fire safety equipment and fire alarms should be regularly tested and serviced. Safelincs offer UK-wide fire alarm servicing and maintenance, providing you with all relevant legal documentation to demonstrate that your alarm has been serviced in line with the British Standards.
The fire extinguisher requirements in any school will be determined by the fire risk assessment which should be reviewed regularly. More in-depth school fire extinguisher recommendations can be found in our fire extinguishers for schools guide.
Fire suppression and automatic sprinkler systems can quickly minimise damage and extinguish fires before they escalate. These systems are often difficult to retrofit but are a good solution for new buildings.
Fire exits refer to the final exits on an escape route. These fire exits should open easily and immediately and should ideally open outwards to a place of safety. To open immediately, fire exits should never be locked or blocked. Special hardware such as fire exit panic bars can be used to ensure the door is secure during normal operation but easy to open in an emergency. The location of school fire exits will be determined by the fire risk assessment. For extra security you can fit a fire exit door alarm that will sound should the fire exit door be opened. Read our guide for further information on fire exit regulations.
Emergency lighting is important for safe evacuation. It is designed to provide illumination in key areas of the school such as corridors and stairwells so that if there is a power failure, escape routes can be easily located. It is important to carefully plan emergency lighting to meet the current regulatory requirements. Read our guide to locating emergency lights for advice on key areas of the building that should be considered.
When installing emergency lighting in schools, consideration should be given to the amount of electricity each type of emergency light requires. To save money on emergency lighting, it is advisable to install energy-saving LED non-maintained lighting that is only switched on when the mains power fails. Older fluorescent emergency lighting will use substantially more electricity than modern LED units.
School fire safety signage should give clear direction so that occupants of the building know what to do and where to go in an emergency. Attention should be paid to ensuring that arrows show the correct direction of travel. For more information about the type of sign you need in specific locations, read our guide to locating fire safety signs.
As with all other fire safety equipment, it is important to maintain emergency lighting and signage in good working order. Emergency lighting tests should be carried out regularly and documented. Safelincs offer emergency lighting servicing across the UK as well as emergency lighting site surveys and installation. It is important that you also regularly check fire safety signs for damage and check that fire exits are not blocked or locked.
Under the RRO and supported by the DDA, reasonable adjustments to fire safety should be made for anyone with a disability and pupils with SEND. This could involve installing a fire door retainer to hold fire doors open safely, thus improving accessibility for anyone with a mobility impairment. Or, it may include installing visual fire alarm beacons for the hearing impaired. Read our blog on reasonable adjustments and school fire safety for more information.
Safe evacuation of all staff, pupils and visitors should be carefully managed and practiced. Evacuation plans are required under the RRO with the Responsible Person (RP) required to make those plans. School fire wardens or marshals should be appointed by the RP to assist in carrying out the plans.
School escape procedure considerations:
An evacuation chair is a useful device for schools who have a responsibility under the RRO and DDA to make reasonable adjustments for anyone with SEND or a mobility impairment. Care should be taken to consider the effects a fire evacuation may have on a pupil with a development disability, such as autism. The sound of the fire alarm may be unbearable for them and could make communication difficult. Using an evacuation chair in such circumstances can help to quickly and safely evacuate in an emergency situation. The Responsible Person has a responsibility to ensure everyone is evacuated to a place of final safety. An evacuation chair will not only allow stairs to be quickly and easily navigated, it also allows the user to be transported to a safe place outside. As with all fire safety equipment, evacuation chair training and maintenance is routinely required so it is always operational and ready for use.
School fire drills are critical in ensuring the safe evacuation of everyone. Fire drills should be carried out at least once a term at different times of the day. Ideally, different scenarios should be practiced with a ‘fire’ deemed to be in a specific location each time and blocking an escape route. This way, staff, fire marshals and pupils are best prepared for changing circumstances.
As set out in the RRO, effective fire safety management includes the need for schools to provide sufficient and suitable training so that they can safeguard themselves and others on the premises. Basic fire safety training should be given to all staff on induction so that they know what actions to take if they discover a fire or hear the fire alarm. Safelincs can provide fire awareness training in small groups. This 2.5 hour course is ideal for new starters or as a refresher course and can be done at your school anywhere in the UK. Fire marshal training should be given to fire wardens and includes enhanced fire safety training and the use of fire extinguishers and other equipment.
A fire safety log book should be maintained, recording any testing, training, installation and servicing for all equipment. You may be expected to show this record to the enforcing authorities if they visit. Whilst this is not explicitly required under the RRO, it is a simple way of proving compliance if required. Safelincs offer a free fire safety log book, enabling the Responsible Person to allocate specific fire safety checks to be carried out by a designated person. The designated person for each fire safety check will automatically be notified when the next check is due. It also offers a clear overview of any outstanding actions and will send reminder notifications until the action has been completed.
Look out for the following common fire hazards in schools and raise awareness by educating staff:
Any school fire safety policy should include the following information:
This policy should reflect the requirements of the RRO and must be available to enforcing offices from the local fire service if requested.
The Department for Education has set out National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools that should be adhered to from 5th September 2022. This includes minimum requirements for fire drills and evacuation.
From 23rd January 2023, boarding schools will be required to follow the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 which sets out more detailed fire safety responsibilities for high rise accommodation.
Staff should receive basic fire safety awareness training when they join the school. For long standing member of your team, a periodic refresher course is advisable. Fire marshals require more in depth training every three years.
The school fire safety policy will determine whether the fire brigade should be called immediately when a fire is discovered. It should also detail who is responsible for calling 999. Whilst small fires can be tackled by trained staff with the appropriate extinguisher, it is still advisable to call the fire brigade at the earliest opportunity.
With regard to fire marshals, schools or nurseries are classified as high risk due to the nature and number of occupants. The below table is a guide to the number of fire marshals but you should consult your school fire risk assessment.
|Number of occupants
|Less than 15
|For every additional 50
|Number of fire marshals
|At least 1
|At least 2
Additional marshals may be required for large sites where 1 fire marshal should be on each floor or area. Extra marshals should also be assigned to cover shift work and staff leave of absence (holiday and sickness etc).
It is important to practice the fire evacuation procedure so that everyone on the premises is familiar with the process and so that evacuation can be carried out as quickly as possible in a real emergency.
Reviewed: 12/01/2023 (doc:761 V1.0). Our articles are reviewed regularly. However, any changes made to standards or legislation following the review date will not have been considered. Please note that we provide abridged, easy-to-understand guidance. To make detailed decisions about your fire safety provisions, you might require further advice or need to consult the full standards and legislation.