Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading resource for security and fire news in the industry. James was previously Editor of Professional Heating & Plumbing Installer magazine.
September 9, 2020

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Petition launched as research finds risk of fire at schools double that of other buildings

According to new research from insurer, Zurich Municipal, schools in England are “nearly twice as likely” to suffer from a fire as other types of commercial buildings.

FireSafety-Schools-20Data was taken from 26,800 schools in England, with the analysis showing that the average fire risk is almost doubled than that of most other non-residential buildings. This is due to a number of reasons, believes Zurich Municipal:

  • Two thirds lack adequate fixed fire protection measures (e.g. sprinklers)
  • A quarter rated ‘poor’ for fire detection
  • The regular presence of cooking equipment
  • Malfunctioning equipment, faulty electrics and arson are the leading causes
  • Sizes of the buildings (bigger and older schools were deemed to be more at risk)

These issues have resulted in nearly 2,000 school blazes in the last three years, and follows recent calls for sprinklers to be made mandatory in schools in England. Larger fires in schools cost on average £2.8 million to repair and in some cases over £20 million.

The findings have led Zurich to launch a parliamentary petition to urge MPs to change the law on sprinklers in schools. Whilst sprinklers are compulsory in all new or major refurbished school buildings in Scotland and Wales, this is not the case in England. In fact, they are fitted in fewer than one in six new schools, believes Zurich.

Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s Head of Education, said: “An alarming number of school buildings pose a high fire risk – yet many are poorly protected against a potential blaze. Unless Ministers bring England into line with other parts of the UK, where sprinklers are mandatory, large fires will continue to blight schools. This is harming children’s education and putting lives at risk.

“As well as protecting pupils, sprinklers drastically reduce the extent of damage when there is a blaze, often confining the fire to a single room. This gets children back into schools and classrooms quicker as well as saving taxpayers’ money.”

Case Study – Sprinklers save Flintshire school from ‘laser cutter’ blaze

Connah’s Quay High School in Flintshire, north Wales, was saved from a potentially disastrous blaze when a laser-cutter caught fire. Around 1,000 pupils had to be evacuated at lunchtime when the fire broke out at the secondary school in June 2019. The school’s sprinkler system quickly extinguished the fire and contained the damage to a single room allowing pupils to return the next day. Emma Dale, Connah’s Quay School Business Manager, said: “Without sprinklers, the damage could have been devastating.” She added: “Sprinklers are a cost saving measure, not an expense. They save the cost of rebuilding and repairing schools, and can pay for themselves in lower insurance premiums.”  Speaking at the time North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: “This incident clearly highlights the importance of sprinklers in helping to avoid the spread of fire.”

Nick Coombe, Protection Vice Chair and Building Safety Programme Lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: “The case for sprinklers is compelling. Of almost 1,000 fires over five years in buildings where sprinklers were fitted, our research found they controlled or extinguished blazes in 99% of cases. We want to see a greater inclusion of Automatic Fire Suppression Systems (AFSS), including sprinklers, across the built environment.  Sprinklers can dramatically reduce fire damage, making the reopening of a school much easier. This not only minimises the disruption to a pupil’s education, but also the impact on their family, the community and the wider education establishment.”

In June, Boris Johnson pledged £1bn to fund a decade long school rebuilding and repair programme and a further £560m in early August. Based on large fires alone, Zurich estimates that the repair for school fires could hit £320 million over 10 years – a significant portion of the government’s slated investment. Zurich wants the government to ring-fence some of its promised investment to improve the resilience of schools at high risk of fire. Insurers work closely with schools to help them manage their fire risks but the installation of sprinklers minimise the dangers from the outset.

You can sign the petition from Zurich Municipal, here.

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