Industry bodies unite to condemn government’s school fire safety proposals

Twenty three industry bodies have written to the Education Secretary urging the government to reconsider plans that would only see sprinklers fitted in school buildings over 11 metres high

A coalition of 23 industry bodies representing hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, surveyors, architects, insurers, and engineers has accused the government of creating a fire safety ‘lottery’ in schools.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, the coalition has demanded the government urgently rethink plans that would only see sprinklers installed in school buildings over 11 metres in height, warning it would leave ‘the majority of schools exposed to fires’.

The letter describes it as ‘incomprehensible’ that the Department for Education (DfE) ‘would choose not to take this opportunity to strengthen safety guidance’ by making sprinklers compulsory in all new build and majorly refurbished schools.

Brought together by school insurer Zurich Municipal, the letter coincides with the end (August 17) of a DfE consultation into planned revisions to its fire safety design guidance in schools.

It comes as data obtained by Zurich under freedom of information shows just eight per cent of new schools built since 2015 have been fitted with sprinklers.

Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal Head of Education, said: “The collective voice and expertise of these industry bodies should not be ignored. The government’s current proposals fall woefully short of the measures needed to tackle school blazes. It makes no economic sense to invest millions of pounds in an asset without taking steps to adequately protect it. We need to bring England in line with Wales and Scotland, where sprinklers are already compulsory in all new and majorly refurbished schools.”

In the letter, the coalition describe it as ‘deeply concerning’ that England’s protection standards for schools fall below those of Scotland and Wales, where sprinklers are legally required. The letter added: ‘It should not take a school fire fatality for the Government to address this disparity’.

Industry professionals also warn of a ‘postcode lottery’ over fire safety, with some local authorities in England, including Derbyshire County Council and Derby City Council, already mandating sprinklers in new build schools.

Between April 2015 and March 2020, firefighters were called to blazes at 1,467 primary schools and 834 secondary schools. Some 47 primary and secondary school buildings were completely gutted, and 230 others seriously damaged. Major school blazes can cost up to £20 million, according to claims data from Zurich Municipal.

‘Whilst the short-term costs of a fire such as the loss of facilities/equipment and the need to rent temporary accommodation can be calculated, the longer-term effects such as disruption to the education of children, already severely impacted as a result of the pandemic… are all much harder to quantify’.

The new rules would require sprinklers to be installed in new special schools and boarding accommodation, as well as school buildings with floors higher than 11 metres.



Chiefs welcome publication of Prevention Fire Standard

The National Fire Chiefs Council has welcomed the publication of the Prevention Fire Standard by the Fire Standards Board

The Prevention Fire Standard aims to bring a consistent national approach to the work carried out by fire and rescue services in reducing risk and educating local communities to keep them safe.

Neil Odin, NFCC Prevention Committee Chair and NFCC Prevention Programme Executive, said the publication of the Prevention Fire Standard is a major step forward in NFCC’s prevention journey and one that will benefit and support fire and rescue services immensely at the local level.

The Prevention Fire Standard has been developed through work carried out by the NFCC Prevention Committee and Prevention Programme, before being approved and published.

Its desired outcome is that fire and rescue services work to educate communities to adopt safer behaviours, reduce community related risks identified through robust community risk management planning, and reduce incidents by carrying out effective, efficient and targeted prevention activities.

Additionally, the Fire Standard encourages fire and rescue services to work collaboratively with others, where appropriate, seeking to improve and innovate prevention activities.

Neil Odin said: “A great deal of work and progress has already been made in the prevention agenda nationally; this includes a number of well established national safety campaigns, hosted nationally and delivered by fire and rescue services across the country.

“This complements the vast amount of prevention work that is developed on an individual basis and delivered locally by each fire and rescue service.

“I’m delighted to welcome this latest development in ensuring that the prevention activities carried out by services across the country not only remain fit for purpose, but continue to evolve and improve in order to meet the challenges presented in a rapidly-changing landscape.”

NFCC Chair Mark Hardingham said: “The Prevention Fire Standard will contribute to a more consistent national approach to reducing risk and keeping communities safe, supporting fire and rescue services to work effectively, collaboratively and innovatively, which will ultimately contribute to a reduction in incidents, injuries, serious injuries and fatalities across the UK.

“My thanks and gratitude go to all those individuals and services who have contributed to the continued development of our prevention work at a national level, and I look forward to seeing this continue for many years to come.”



South Yorkshire launches ‘trailblazing’ virtual safety check service

Artificial intelligence is set to supercharge the way safety advice is delivered to the public, following the launch of a new service by fire officers in South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue has launched a brand new system that allows local residents to get a virtual fire safety check from the comfort of their own homes.

All people have to do is text a number from their mobile phones, or scan a QR code, and they will be asked a series of questions on things such as smoke alarms and electricals. They will be walked through the whole process by an artificial intelligence system that will give immediate feedback and, if necessary, ask them to book an in-person safety visit. As well as asking questions and giving feedback, the system will urge participants to check various appliances around the home and ensure they are safe with things such as ovens.

It is thought that this virtual check is the first of its kind not only for the UK fire services, but for fire services right across the world, and fire officers believe it will help them on their mission to make South Yorkshire as safe from fire as possible.

“We are really excited about this new feature and know it’s going to make thousands of people safer in their homes – which is what our service is all about,” said Group Manager Matt Gillatt, Deputy Head of the Joint Police and Fire Community Safety Department. “These virtual checks will allow people to assess their own fire risk and get potentially life-saving safety advice, all through a mobile phone, and in the comfort of their own homes.

“To be clear, we have no intention of using this new technology to replace or reduce our current in-person home safety check provision – this is vital work which we will carry on. The virtual check service is an extra string to our community safety bow which is ideal for households who are generally at low risk from fire, but would still like some reassurance.”

It is estimated the check will take people around five minutes to complete and advice will be offered on any areas where there are causes for concern. Should the system feel the person is high risk and in need of an in-person visit, they will be invited to request one via the service’s website.

The virtual safety check has been developed in partnership with Hello Lamp Post, a company specialising in using artificial intelligence to support public sector organisations and the communities they serve.

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Smoke association welcomes Expert Group statement on building safety

The Smoke Control Association has welcomed a statement from a group of independent experts on building safety in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats in which they highlight ‘cost effective risk mitigations’ such as smoke control systems

The experts were asked, by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, to consider issues of proportionality in relation to building safety in medium- and lower-rise blocks of flats, the impact on the housing market, and what more government could do to ensure approaches that are proportionate to the level of risk.

Paragraph 3 of the ensuing statement references blocks of flats below 18m where fire safety risks are identified and states: ‘Adequate levels of safety can be achieved for residents by implementing cost effective risk mitigations (such as smoke and fire detectors and alarms, adequate means of escape, sprinklers and smoke control systems). Where these risk mitigations are not present, their introduction, or other cost-effective measures or enhancements, can mitigate risks identified without unnecessarily financially burdening those involved’.

David Mowatt, Chairman of the SCA, commented: “The SCA welcomes the statement from the Expert Group and fully supports the view that fire risks can be managed in medium- and lower-rise flats by introducing appropriate safety measures such as smoke control systems.”

The Expert Group is made up of individuals with broad experience in this field and includes:

  • Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety
  • Sir Ken Knight, Chair of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel on building safety following the Grenfell Tower fire
  • Ron Dobson, former London Fire Commissioner
  • Roy Wilsher, Advisor on fire reform, former Chief Fire Officer.

The full statement can be viewed at

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Domestic Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Competency Scheme

BAFE Scheme DS301 Third Party Certification is now available for contractors working with Grade D fire detection and fire alarm systems for domestic premises

Following an extensive development process more than two years in the making, the BAFE Fire Safety Register and NAPIT are proud to announce a new scheme to assess the competency of organisations who provide design, installation, commissioning and maintenance services for BS 5839-6 Grade D fire detection and fire alarm systems in domestic premises.

BAFE DS301 (For the Design, Installation, Commissioning and Maintenance of Grade D Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Systems in Domestic Premises) supports appropriate British Standards and best working practice, most notably the latest iteration of BS 5839-6 (Code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire detection and fire alarm systems in domestic premises).

Acknowledging progress of recognising organisational and individual competency following the Grenfell Tower fire, the BAFE DS301 Scheme will also focus scrutiny on two key personnel roles required for an organisation to become Third Party Certificated/BAFE Registered for Grade D systems. These are a Principal Duty Holder (the person appointed by the organisation to have responsibility for the maintenance of the overall standard and safety of the fire detection and fire alarm system work) and a Qualified Supervisor (a Competent Person who meets the requirements of the BAFE DS301 Scheme and with specific responsibility on a day-to-day basis for the safety, technical standard and quality of the fire detection and fire alarm system work). A key requirement for the Qualified Supervisor will be to ensure that all operatives undertaking fire detection and fire alarm work for the organisation are competent.

Chris Auger, Director of Schemes, BAFE, said: “The roles of Principal Duty Holder and Qualified Supervisor for the BAFE DS301 Scheme is a crucial element to upholding quality and competency of those delivering these services. Dame Judith Hackitt and subsequent working groups have raised the topic of both organisational and individual responsibility, which have been incorporated into the BAFE DS301 Scheme organisation competency criteria as a direct result. With this, there will be a transparent chain of responsibility for such systems aiding the desired ‘golden thread’ of key information. It was a core component in the development of the scheme.

“We are delighted to officially announce the BAFE DS301 Scheme with NAPIT as the first licensed certification body, who will be delivering assessment for those registered within this scope for the electrotechnical sector.”

Justin Maltby-Smith, NAPIT Technical Scheme Development Manager, added “NAPIT are delighted to be leading the way with the development of the new DS301 Scheme with BAFE. The DS301 Scheme will help to raise standards within the domestic electrical sector for organisations who carry out design, installation, commissioning and maintenance work on BS 5839-6 Grade D fire detection and fire alarm systems. BS 5839-6 was fully revised in 2019 and amended in 2020 and it is extremely important that work on Grade D fire detection and fire alarm systems is performed in compliance with and to the current British Standard. Achieving this third-party certification will demonstrate an organisation’s commitment and competence to perform quality and compliant work to keep people safe in their homes.”

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