Building our children’s education is the number one priority and although teachers are integral in driving the UK’s education forward, contractors, architects and estate directors’ involvement is becoming increasingly celebrated. Bricks and mortar of schools, colleges and universities provide the physical ‘building blocks’ for our children’s future, proofing these educational structures has an ever important part to play in driving our education system forward.
With structures, come risks and with recent fire incidents around the world, increasing number of people are being exposed to the dangers fire still poses across any industry. These days security in schools is at a forefront of many agendas and for good reason. The everyday threat of fire incidents occurring more frequently has changed the operational risk relative to personal safety in schools.
Educational establishments including schools, colleges and laboratories are actually some of the most prone structures to fire hazards. This is due to ageing structures, high volume of combustible materials, and changing use in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs where more combustible and flammable liquids are being used.
Recent research by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) showed that a key focus for all educational institutions must be ensuring that there is an effective fire risk management in place, delivered by suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment carried out by an expert in the field.
Even though fire and safety hazards will continue to arise, they can be eliminated or mitigated through the rigorous application of the highest industry codes and standards. It is a responsibility of the school administration, building design teams and code officials to determine the acceptable approach and level of life safety of each educational institution, whether relating to the structure, interior, lighting and security, design and technology or building sustainability.
The key to solving such challenges is by providing regular comprehensive risk assessments that identify existing and emerging sources of fire safety risks for campus facilities and its occupants. Based on the assessments, customised risk control programs can be created to mitigate and eliminate sources of risk with cost-effective solutions. Such risk control programmes combined with thorough analysis and appropriate technology will help meet design objectives but also ensure code compliance.
Our safety and forensics experts at JENSEN HUGHES recognise the growing importance of providing safe and secure schools and campuses for students, faculty and staff. Our licensed fire protection engineers and professional building code and security consultants help facility managers maximise system efficiencies and achieve compliance with applicable codes and standards.
As a result, we’ve compiled some pointers to help develop your fire safety procedures, during both the building design post construction.
Keeping on top of fire safety
Without a massive overhaul of legislation, and the years required to develop sound changes in guidance, simple things can fundamentally change fire safety in the education sector:
1. Have qualified fire engineers be part of the design team, including multi-disciplinary reviews, to verify coordinated fire safety design across disciplines and inspect the constructed product as well as the building inspector.
2. Develop fire safety goals and objectives for the school district or campus.
3. Do not assume that the code minimum provides the adequate level of safety desired by the fire safety goals and objectives. Most times exceeding the code minimums may save in other life safety features.
4. Engage, educate and empower building users to ensure passive protection measures are used (fire doors closed, clear escape paths).
All in all, fire safety is of utmost importance in any building, no matter the type, and getting advice from a professional is key to ensuring individuals are fully protected. Adhering to the latest regulations and legislations is no longer enough, we must now proactively evaluate and assess our current fire safety procedures and collaborate with experts from the get-go to ensure future safety of our institutions from the foundations up. It’s imperative that in order to do this effectively, we firstly define the safety goals needed to protect the students, faculty, staff and start with the question – are my fire safety procedures definitely up to date?