As part of a continuing campaign, the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), Business Sprinkler Alliance, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and European Fire Sprinkler Network (EFSN) have been involved in to influence the Review of BB100 Sprinklers in Schools in England.
Zurich Municipal analysis of data on over 26,800 schools in England shows the average fire risk in schools is almost double when compared to that of non-residential buildings. Schools in England are nearly twice as likely to suffer a blaze as other types of commercial building, according to the research conducted by Zurich Municipal, the globally renowned insurer of schools in the United Kingdom.
Fire risks posed by schools in England
In the most comprehensive analysis of its kind to date, the Zurich Municipal analyzed the fire risks posed by 26,866 primary and secondary schools in England. It found the average school posed a fire risk 1.71 times greater than non-residential buildings (with a fire risk score of 0.58 and 0.33 respectively according to Zurich’s model).
When compared to 2.92 million non-household properties, schools were also three times more likely to fall into the ‘high’ fire risk category (58% versus 20%), as defined by the study. Data scientists analyzed 33,000 fires from the last six years to identify factors that increase the likelihood of a blaze from which they produced a fire risk score.3 These factors include listed status, presence of cooking equipment and size of the building itself.
Lack of fire safety equipment in schools
Many schools also lack the equipment needed to prevent small fires becoming major disasters
Despite being far riskier than average when it comes to fires, many schools also lack the equipment needed to prevent small fires becoming major disasters. Of more than 1,000 school inspections carried out by Zurich, 66% were rated as having ‘poor’ fixed fire protection systems, such as sprinklers, which are proven to significantly reduce the damage caused by fire. Just 14% were rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.
Additionally, a further quarter of the schools (24%) analyzed were judged ‘poor’ for fire detection measures, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms. Firefighters have been called to nearly 2,000 school blazes in the last three years.
Malfunctioning equipment & faulty electrics
Malfunctioning appliances or equipment, faulty electrics, arson and kitchen blazes are among the leading causes of school fires. Larger fires in schools cost on average £2.8 million to repair and in some cases over £20 million.
Bigger and older schools, including those with a canteen, and secondary schools, which have more complex and dangerous equipment, were identified as particularly at risk. A correlation between poor OFSTED ratings and greater risk of fire was also identified in the analysis.
Call to change the law on sprinklers in schools
The findings have led Zurich to launch a parliamentary petition to urge MPs to change the law on sprinklers in schools. While sprinklers are compulsory in all new or major refurbished school buildings in Scotland and Wales, this is not the case in England. In fact, they are fitted in less than one in six new schools.
An alarming number of school buildings pose a high fire risk, yet many are poorly protected against a potential blaze"
Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s Head of Education, said “An alarming number of school buildings pose a high fire risk, yet many are poorly protected against a potential blaze. Unless Ministers bring England into line with other parts of the UK, where sprinklers are mandatory, large fires will continue to blight schools. This is harming children’s education and putting lives at risk.”
Importance of sprinklers installed in schools
Watson adds, “Burnt out schools and classrooms cause major disruption to children’s education, with repairs leading to months or even years of upheaval. They also result in the loss of spaces which local communities rely on out of school hours.”
He further stated, “As well as protecting pupils, sprinklers drastically reduce the extent of damage when there is a blaze, often confining the fire to a single room. This gets children back into schools and classrooms quicker as well as saving taxpayers’ money. Countless young people have already had their schooling upended by the coronavirus pandemic. We cannot allow school fires to further disrupt young people’s education, and jeopardize their futures.”
Deploying Automatic Fire Suppression Systems
Nick Coombe, Protection Vice Chair and Building Safety Program Lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), said “The case for sprinklers is compelling. Of almost 1,000 fires over five years in buildings where sprinklers were fitted, our research found they controlled or extinguished blazes in 99% of cases. We want to see a greater inclusion of Automatic Fire Suppression Systems (AFSS), including sprinklers, across the built environment.”
Nick adds, “Sprinklers can dramatically reduce fire damage, making the reopening of a school much easier. This not only minimizes the disruption to a pupil’s education, but also the impact on their family, the community and the wider education establishment.”
Improving resilience of schools at risk of fire damage
Based on large fires alone, Zurich Municipal estimates that the repair for school fires could hit £320 million over 10 years
According to Zurich’s analysis, seven million (7,036,327) primary and secondary school children are taught in the 58% of buildings that are a high fire risk. In June, Boris Johnson pledged £1 billion to fund a decade long school rebuilding and repair program and a further £560m in early August.
Based on large fires alone, Zurich Municipal estimates that the repair for school fires could hit £320 million over 10 years, a significant portion of the government’s slated investment. They want the government to ring-fence some of its promised investment to improve the resilience of schools at high risk of fire damage. Insurers need to work closely with schools to help them manage their fire risks, along with the installation of sprinklers to minimize the danger from the outset.
Installing fire sprinklers across all schools
Watson adds, “It costs far more to repair fire-ravaged schools than it does to install sprinklers. Even so, cash strapped schools cannot be expected to pick up the bill. The government’s COVID-19 investment is a critical opportunity to ensure schools are more resilient to fire.”
He concludes, “Unless ministers change the law on sprinklers, much of this funding will be wasted on repairing the fire damage that sprinklers could have easily prevented. The government should also gather and disclose more data on school fires to help fully understand the risks they pose and their wider financial and social impacts.”