When an early years setting is damaged by fire, the effects are far wider reaching than the material damage to the building. Consider the trauma to staff and children, loss of work and resources, and effect on the local community.

By taking some basic precautions in working practices, it is possible to minimise the risk of fire. In this issue we will be looking at the legal requirements, and next month we will look at precautions to take to reduce the risk of the largest cause of fire -arson – as well as some of the resources and services that are available from your local fire and rescue services for educating the children in your care.

Legal considerations

When setting up an early years facility

  1. If you propose to operate your childcare facility within a premises which is currently used for a different purpose, or you intend to make material/structural changes to your premises you should contact your local council as you may require planning consent and satisfy the requirements of building regulations via building control. They, not the fire service, are the lead authority in these matters.
  2. Prior consultation must be carried out with Ofsted to ensure compliance with their registration procedures. This assessment will be carried out by the local fire authority. If improvements are required then the fire safety inspector may enforce these requirements under the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997, as amended in 1999.

However, on 1 October 2006 the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force:

The RRO 2005

The regulations under the RRO generally have the same requirements as those under the 1999 regulations, but include all persons who visit the setting at any time.

Unlike the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulation 1997, which was aimed at employers and the safety of those in their employment, the RRO 2005 will apply to:

  • any place (other than single domestic dwelling)
  • all persons who may work in, or visit the premises or be within its boundary, eg staff, children, parents attending events
  • you, even if you are self-employed and do not employ others
  • responsible persons: the employer, and any other person such as the owner, who has control over any part of the premises, or all of the owners in multi-occupied premises.

What a fire safety inspector or the RRO 2005 will expect of you

The responsible person is required, under the orders to make a ‘suitable and sufficient assessment’ of the risks of fire to those who are on and around your premises. How you actually do this is up to you. Some guidance follows, or you can access a blank form from the website given at the end of the article.

Sources of fuel

Ensure that you guard against:

  • unnecessary build up of waste and combustibles, especially in potentially hazardous rooms, such as kitchens.
  • unsuitable portable heaters, fuelled by bottled gas or oil.
  • cooking oils and fats – where possible use alternatives

Sources of ignition

  • Check the condition of electrical installations and appliances. 
  • Any fixed fires or heaters must be fitted with suitable guards to avoid accidental contact with clothing, paper etc.
  • Kitchens used for preparation of cooked meals should be fitted with 30-minute fire doors with intumescent strips and cold smoke seals, which, when closed, will also prevent access by children.
  • Avoid storing or drying clothes on or around central heating boilers.

Identify people at risk

  • Are you caring for babies or children with special needs? Lack of, or poor, mobility should influence the suitability of your premises eg where possible, utilise ground floor rooms.
  • Do you require specialist evacuation equipment eg a baby evacuation trolley, which moves up to six babies at once, or equipment to assist vertical evacuation?

Firefighting equipment

  • Do you have enough fire extinguishers?
  • Do you have the correct types of extinguishers?
  • Are they positioned correctly?
  • Are you or your staff trained to use them?

Raising the alarm and fire detection

Can you alert everyone in the event of fire? The level of fire alarm necessary for your premises will depend upon its complexity:

  • Single room – it may be sufficient to shout ‘Fire’ or provide a whistle.
  • Multi-room – mains powered interlinked domestic-type smoke detectors may be suitable.
  • Multi-occupancy buildings – may require a commercial standard fire alarm/smoke detection system.

In the event of fire

The key to any safe evacuation, especially within premises whose occupants rely solely upon staff for assistance, is time. Early detection/warning of a fire, combined with protection of escape routes from fire, will ensure sufficient time to enable staff to react and get everyone out of the building.

Means of escape

  • Do you have sufficient numbers of fire exits and alternative routes?
  • Do you require a protected route eg fire doors on all rooms with only one escape route?
  • Fire doors should be fitted to hazardous rooms, such as kitchens.
  • Fire doors should be fire-resistant for a minimum 30-minutes, incorporating intumescent strips and cold smoke seals and fitted with a positive self-closer mechanism.
  • All doors on escape routes and final exit doors must be readily available for immediate use at all times without the need for a key. Where there is a need to secure the building to prevent the public having immediate access to the children, Ofsted will require additional security measures. However, always seek advice from the fire safety inspector before fitting anything. Examples of mechanisms that may be suitable are panic bars, push pads, single locks with a thumb turn, easy-slide draw bolts or electro-magnetic locks (check your setting’s conditions for the most appropriate method).
  • Do not block escape routes, eg with pushchairs, and keep them clear of combustible items or decorations.
  • Do you have a ‘safe assembly’ area, away from the building?
  • Can you escape if necessary from your assembly area? Is there a gate? What type of locking mechanism is fitted? Do you have access to a telephone to call for help?
  • Do you have sufficient and suitable fire exit signage (ie ‘running man’ type)?
  • Do your hours of operation include hours of darkness? If yes, do you have borrowed light eg street lighting? If not, you may require emergency lighting on internal and external escape routes.

Records

If you have five or more employees you must keep a record of your assessment and any actions you need to take. However, it is good practice to keep a record, whatever the size of your workforce. For your ‘audit trail’, you should keep records of the following:

  • your risk assessment
  • staff training – all of your staff should know what to do in an emergency
  • your fire drill – ensure that all staff and visitors know your fire evacuation procedures
  • the testing of your fire alarms (where fitted) – fire alarms should be tested weekly by the occupier and inspected annually by a qualified/competent person
  • the testing of emergency lighting (where fitted) –emergency lighting should be tested monthly by the occupier, and inspected annually by a qualified/ competent person
  • the maintenance of your fire extinguishers.

The above mentioned are purely points for consideration and are by no means an exhaustive list of safety measures. For further information contact your local fire and rescue service or visit www.communities.gov.uk and click ‘fire safety law and guidance documents for business’ and go to Guide 5 – Educational Premises.

Information compiled by: Mark Goulding, inspecting officer, Colin Patrick, inspecting officer, Jo Thomas, education adviser,

West Midlands Fire Service

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