Secondary School Loss Analysis

A fire risk assessment (FRA) should be undertaken for all areas of secondary schools in compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Regulations 2005 (or equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland). In some areas, for example science laboratories, an assessment may also be needed in accordance with the Dangerous Substances (Explosive Atmospheres) Regulations 2002 (DSEAR).

Fire hazards

In many secondary schools, large quantities of paper, books, combustible physical education (PE) mats and similar materials together present a high fire load, resulting in fires in these premises becoming large and costly. Other hazards are:  

  • vulnerability of the building to intruders who light fires in an attempt to destroy evidence of theft
  • easy access and opportunities to deliberately ignite combustible waste and other materials
  • open flames in science laboratories
  • hot work and the use of hand tools by maintenance staff and contractors
  • heating processes for arts and crafts employing ovens, furnaces and kilns
  • explosions occurring as a result of the release of flammable gases or vapours
  • electrical hazards from poorly maintained installations or electrical equipment
  • unsupervised use of school premises for local community activities outside of school hours
  • cooking in canteen kitchens
  • unauthorised experiments and playground activities which result in accidental fires
  • illicit smoking of cigarettes

Risk control

The following measures should be considered:

  • ensure that an arson risk assessment is carried out as part of the FRA, undertaken in compliance with fire safety legislation – as for the FRA, the arson risk assessment should be reviewed periodically
  • review security arrangements periodically, particularly if fires (even small fires) are deliberately started in the neighbourhood
  • train staff in the selection and use of the firefighting equipment that is provided, especially where laboratory work involves the use of open flames
  • eliminate hot work (including burning off paint when redecorating) being carried out by maintenance staff and contractors wherever possible – when necessary, a hot work permit system should be in use
  • train staff using ovens, kilns and similar facilities in their correct use and to work within the parameters set out in the school’s operating procedures
  • only introduce into teaching areas volumes of flammable liquids that are necessary for the work period – bulk supplies of flammable liquids should be stored securely in a purpose designed facility, preferably outside the building, and staff should be trained in actions to take in the event of a spillage of flammable liquid
  • store all gas cylinders in prominently signed facilities designed for this purpose
  • engage a competent electrician to inspect the installed electrical wiring in accordance with the requirements of BS 7671 at periods determined by a risk assessment and ensure the results are recorded
  • carry out in-service inspection and testing of portable electrical equipment (PAT testing) at periods in accordance with HS(G)107 and the IET Code of Practice for In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment, or more frequently as determined by a risk assessment
  • provide clear fire safety guidance for people in charge of community groups using the premises outside of school hours
  • provide training to kitchen staff of actions to take in the event of a fire, including the emergency shutdown of cooking facilities, the operation of fixed fire suppression systems and other procedures
  • ensure that appropriate passive fire protection measures are in place to minimise the risk of fire spreading between compartments within the building, from the building to adjacent premises, or vice versa – this is particularly important in some schools designed and built in the 1960s and 1970s (school laboratories and kitchens should be located independently in separate
  • fire compartments)
  • protect the premises by installing an automatic fire detection and alarm system, designed to an appropriate category (as defined in BS 5839-1) and monitored by an alarm receiving centre when the premises are unoccupied
  • give serious consideration to installing an automatic sprinkler system, designed in accordance with BS EN 12845, in all parts of the school, to control a fire until the arrival of the fire and rescue service (FRS) – suitable fixed fire
  • suppression systems should also be installed to protect deep fat fryers, grills and similar kitchen equipment
  • liaise with the local FRS where appropriate to make sure that water supplies in the area are adequate for sprinklers and for firefighting purposes
  • ensure that access to the site is readily available to the FRS on its arrival, and that staff are present during working hours to direct firefighters to the relevant area
  • control parking to ensure that roads and turning circles in school grounds are kept clear for FRS vehicles; liaise with police and the local authority if necessary to ensure that FRS vehicles are not delayed by unauthorised parking in the vicinity
  • monitor activities on the school field and elsewhere on site to prevent illicit smoking, playing with fire and experiments that might result in fires being started either accidentally or deliberately have an effective emergency plan in place to ensure the resilience of the school and its activities. One way of approaching this is to complete the ROBUST business continuity and incident management planning software available free from