Building work at all schools must comply with the building regulations enforced by local building control bodies. Building Bulletin 100, Design for Fire Safety in Schools, was published by RIBA Enterprises on 9 November 2007. It is the normal means of compliance with building regulations for fire safety design in new school buildings and sets out the Department's policy on sprinklers in schools. It applies to nursery schools, primary and secondary schools, academies and city technology colleges, special schools and pupil referral units.
Sprinkler systems have great potential to help prevent the devastating impact a fire can have in a school. In March 2007, Jim Knight, the then Minister of State for Schools and Learners, announced the Department's expectation that all new schools would have sprinklers fitted. Any exception to this must be justified by demonstrating a school is low risk and that the use of sprinklers would not be good value for money. To help people make the right decisions, the Building Research Establishment developed two new tools for the Department. One covers risk assessments, enabling an existing or proposed school to be ranked high, medium or low risk. The other is a cost benefit analysis, specifically covering the use of sprinklers in schools.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Services) Order 2005 (RRO), implemented in October 2006, replaced the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997. The RRO applies to both new and existing school buildings. It provides for minimum fire safety standards and emphasises the duty of 'the responsible person' to ensure every school has risk assessments carried out.
To ensure there is no doubt as to where the responsibility for fire safety rests, and to enable consistency of approach, it is important each establishment appoints a designated fire safety manager. This should be a senior appointment preferably at head or deputy head level. It may be possible to appoint a professional to take on this role but that will depend on the size of the premises, costs, etc.
Each year, more than 1,300 schools in the UK suffer fires large enough to be attended by LA fire and rescue services. Fifty-six per cent of these are classed as non-accidental. According to government estimates (CLG), the average cost of school fires between 2000 and 2004 was £58 million per year. The odds on your school experiencing such a fire are about one in 20, but that is not the whole picture. Many fires are not reported, at least to fire brigades, particularly if they self-extinguished or are put out by staff. Research by the Arson Prevention Bureau in 1998 found more than a half of all school fires fell in this category and that the total cost of unreported fires is unlikely to be very large.
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