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Delivering A* fire safety

Simon Massey from Hochiki Europe offers fire safety tips for school building managers

Posted by Stephanie Broad | December 23, 2015 | Security & safety

Just like offices and other commercial buildings, no two schools are the same, nor do they remain the same over time. From walls knocked through linking new extensions, to conversions of existing space for new functions, school interiors are regularly adapted to accommodate changes in function as the educational needs of teachers and pupils evolve. With this in mind, the people installing and maintaining the fire safety and emergency lighting systems of a school need to keep up-to-speed with internal changes and respond to make sure the building remains compliant with regulations and, above all, fit for purpose.

In spite of the necessity of making sure that the life safety equipment of a building – whether it is a school or commercial premises – is suitable for its specific needs, new research by Hochiki Europe shows that many developments are not achieving this goal. The study found that more than half of European businesses are failing to adjust life safety systems according to changes in the use of their space, with implications for the suitability of the final life safety system for the property’s needs. 

Due the Government’s ongoing austerity programme, schools’ budgets for building maintenance remain highly constrained, so it is no surprise that school building managers are concerned about costs when renovating premises to accommodate changes in use. Nevertheless, the life safety systems in a space have to be appropriate for its current function – and changed when the room’s purpose alters. Failing to take this into account risks the safety of pupils and school staff.

To ensure fire safety and emergency lighting equipment remains fit for purpose, school building managers should take the following steps:

1. Keep accurate records

The logbooks for both fire safety and emergency lighting systems – kept safely near the control panel – should be updated after each maintenance visit, with any findings or issues noted in the document.

2. Stay up to speed with legislation

All fire safety and emergency lighting equipment in the school should be checked to ensure it complies with the latest regulatory requirements. It’s also important to make sure that all systems are third-party approved and suitable for the room’s internal environment.

3. Measure lux levels

Escape routes, changes in floor level and safety equipment locations all need specific light levels under BS5266, so the emergency lighting throughout the school should be inspected to ensure it offers the right lux levels for the needs of the space it is installed in.

4. Check emergency exits

The school’s exits should be kept clear at all times, with the appropriate exit signage in place. These should be checked on a regular basis to ensure compliance with fire safety legislation.

5. Ensure regular cleaning

Fire detectors should be regularly cleaned to ensure optimum performance, carefully following the manufacturers’ recommendations to protect their mechanisms from harm. Emergency lighting systems that rely on battery back-up should also be kept fully charged to ensure they can provide the minimum three-hour illumination in the event of a power outage, in accordance with BS5266. 

Cost will understandably remain a concern for schools when carrying out necessary refits to their facilities for the foreseeable future. However, it should never be at the expense of fire safety.

Installers and other members of the fire safety industry need to be proactive to inform the people in charge of schools’ life safety systems about the importance of upgrading their equipment when the premises’ needs change, and to support them in regularly reviewing the suitability of their technology. With this guidance, school building managers can rest assured that their solutions are fit for the latest needs of their premises, ensuring they are not only compliant with legislation, but safeguarding the wellbeing of pupils and staff too.  

Simon Massey is Section Leader Technical Support/Training at Hochiki Europe

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