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Keeping children safe within your setting should be your main priority. As such, fire safety will play a considerable part of your practice. The Early Years Foundation Stage Framework is at the heart of every nursery and it states this in regards to fire safety, “Providers must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of children, staff and others on the premises in the case of fire or any other emergency, and must have an emergency evacuation procedure.” In a nursery setting, you have such an important job and that is to keep your children safe. Of course, keeping the staff and business safe is also key, but you are trusted to take care of other people’s children, and that in itself is why fire safety should be prioritised within a nursery setting. The results of failing to follow fire safety procedures can be catastrophic and result in life-changing injuries, or even death, of the young people in your care.
In 2019, the Guardian reported that two-thirds of schools and nurseries have inadequate fire safety procedures. This equates to 67% of settings researched by insurance company Zurich, with only 5% being deemed to be excellent. This blog will tell you everything you need to know about fire safety in nurseries by providing an overview of all relevant legislation, examples of best practice and a refresher of your own fire safety knowledge.
Who is the Responsible Person?
By law, all nursery settings are required to identify a ‘responsible person’ who has the duty to ensure the safety of all staff and children within the setting. The responsible person is the employer or building owner/occupier.
This person must ensure that the Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) is carried out in addition to keeping it up to date. We will take a look in more depth at the FRA a little later on in the blog. But for now, let’s take a further look at the responsible person and their duties. If you are the nursery manager or owner of the business, you might be the responsible person. If you don’t know who the responsible person is, it is important that you find out. As an employee this allows you to know who to speak to if you have concerns, questions or require support on this topic.
A responsible person must ensure that all the equipment is checked and in working order. This reduces the risk of injury or loss of life. Equipment usually includes fire extinguishers, fire detectors (both smoke and heat), fire doors and fire alarms. It is good practice to have a Fire Logbook, which includes a record of each check and what equipment has been checked. It is recommended that you test your alarm system on a weekly basis, but it should be tested by a competent person at least twice a year. A competent person is, “In general terms, the definition of a competent person is someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety.” This often means hiring a specialist from an outside agency. For more information on competent persons, please see this link: HSE: Competence.
A responsible person should provide training in order to ensure staff and children are aware of fire safety procedures. As part of the role of a responsible person, it is essential to provide training in fire safety for all staff within the setting. This will ensure that the members of staff understand the basic principles of fire safety, in addition to knowing what to do in the case of a fire. The training should be provided or delivered by a person or company knowledgeable about fire safety, but it doesn’t have to be a registered body. For example, the responsible person could choose to deliver the training themselves if they are knowledgeable about fire safety and have undergone training prior to conducting the training. Alternatively, fire safety training can be undertaken via the internet. See the Fire Safety Awareness Course on CPD Online College for a comprehensive training course to help all employees understand how to reduce the risk posed by fire in the workplace: Fire Safety Awareness.
When it comes to fire safety it is important to understand the legislation in order to ensure that your nursery setting meets all requirements. Even if you are not a ‘responsible person’, being aware of the legislation can support your knowledge and understanding of fire safety and the safeguarding of the children in your care.
The main document to be aware of is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The full document can be found here if you’d like further information: Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. Let’s take a brief overview of this legislation. It begins by stating that a responsible person should take steps to reduce the risk of fire and as far as is ‘reasonably practical’ make sure that everyone on the premises can safely evacuate the building in the event of a fire. It goes on to state that a responsible person must appoint competent persons to assist in the undertaking of preventative and protective measures, primarily through a Fire Risk Assessment. The competent persons must, therefore:
- Identify fire hazards
- Identify the relevant people who may be at risk
- Eliminate and reduce risk from fire as far as is reasonably possible and provide general fire precautions to deal with any possible risk left
- Provide fire precautions to deal with the identified risks
- Take precautions if there are flammable materials on the premises
- Create a plan to deal with any emergency.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) is enforced by fire authorities and failure to comply can result in large fines and potential imprisonment imposed upon the responsible persons. The government has published some guidance documents to support responsible persons with fire safety legislation: Guidance.
Nurseries in Northern Ireland and Scotland are subject to similar legislation, but the documentation is different. In Scotland, separate legislation was introduced providing guidance for nurseries which fall under this jurisdiction: Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006. In Northern Ireland, the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) were introduced in 2010 and can be found here: Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue. While the documentation is very similar, it is worth knowing that Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legislation on fire safety.
No matter whether your nursery is in England, Northern Ireland or Scotland, you are required to carry out a Fire Safety Assessment (FSA), sometimes simply referred to as a ‘risk assessment’. If you’ve worked in nurseries or education before, you will be familiar with risk assessments. They simply do what they say on the tin… they assess risks. In the case of fire safety, it is strongly recommended that a competent, experienced and knowledgeable person undertakes the risk assessment on behalf of the responsible person.
The risk assessment takes place in five steps:
1. Identify fire hazards
– Sources of ignition
– Sources of fuel
– Sources of oxygen.
2. Identify people at risk
– People in and around the premises
– People especially at risk.
3. Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risk
– Evaluate the risk of a fire occurring
– Evaluate the risk to people from fire
– Remove or reduce fire hazards
– Remove or reduce the risks to people:
• Detection and warning
• Escape routes
• Signs and notices
4. Record, plan, inform, instruct and train
– Record significant findings and action taken
– Prepare an emergency plan
– Inform and instruct relevant people; cooperate and coordinate with others
– Provide training.
– Keep assessment under review
– Revise where necessary.
This is the basic outline for an FSA. Of course, for most people, we wouldn’t have the slightest clue about how to identify fire hazards, evaluate the risks and remove the risks, which is why it is recommended that you find a competent person to assist with this. This is part of being a responsible person. That being said, if you’d like to improve your knowledge and start to put together a risk assessment while waiting for the input of a competent person, the government has provided some very in-depth information to help you on your way: Fire Safety Assessment. Please be advised that even if you follow this document, it is still recommended that you seek professional support to carry out a Fire Safety Assessment.
Sharing the information outlined in the Fire Safety Assessment with all employees is extremely important in order to ensure that the risk assessment is followed in case of an emergency, but also so that employees are aware of what needs to be done on a daily basis to ensure that the risk of fire is reduced.
An important aspect of the Fire Safety Assessment will be general housekeeping, and by this I mean the prevention of fires. This includes things such as ensuring electrics are tested by appropriate bodies, that the nursery uses non-flammable materials and that the nursery isn’t cluttered or the plugs overloaded. It is also advised that CCTV be included to prevent arson attempts, as surprisingly 43% of fires are caused by arson. Also, only 22% of fires in nurseries occur during the day, with a whopping 78% occurring out of school time.
Before we look at the employee duties in more detail, let’s take a quick look at what the employer’s duties are. Remember, that an employer might not be considered the ‘responsible person’ in every scenario.
- You must appoint one or more competent persons, depending on the size and use of your premises, to carry out any of the preventative and protective measures required.
- You must provide your employees with clear and relevant information on the risks to them identified by the Fire Risk Assessment, about the measures you have taken to prevent fires, and how these measures will protect them if a fire breaks out.
- You must consult your employees (or their elected representatives) about nominating people to carry out particular roles in connection with fire safety and about proposals for improving the fire precautions.
- You must inform non-employees, such as temporary or contract workers, of the relevant risks to them, and provide them with information about who the nominated competent persons are, and about the fire safety procedures for the premises.
- You must cooperate and coordinate with other responsible persons who also have premises in the building, inform them of any significant risks you find and how you will seek to reduce/control those risks which might affect the safety of their employees.
- You must consider the presence of any dangerous substances and the risk this presents to relevant persons from fire.
- You must establish a suitable means of contacting the emergency services and provide them with any relevant information about dangerous substances.
- You must provide appropriate information, instruction and training to your employees, during their normal working hours, about the fire precautions in your workplace, when they start working for you, and from time to time throughout the period they work for you.
- You must ensure that the premises and any equipment provided in connection with firefighting, fire detection and warning, or emergency routes and exits are covered by a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained by a competent person in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.
- Your employees must cooperate with you to ensure the workplace is safe from fire and its effects, and must not do anything that will place themselves or other people at risk.
Employee duties differ from employer duties in terms of what you are entitled to as a member of staff. You are entitled to the provision of adequate fire safety measures on the premises to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, your safety from harm caused by fire.
- You are entitled to appropriate instruction (and training where necessary) about any risks identified on the premises, fire safety measures provided and what to do in the event of a fire.
- You must take reasonable care to ensure the workplace is safe from harm caused by fire and do nothing that will place yourself or others at risk.
- You must inform your employer (or a fellow employee with specific fire safety responsibilities) of anything relating to the premises which could represent a serious and immediate fire safety danger; of anything which you reasonably consider represents a shortcoming in the employer’s fire safety protection arrangements; or in the event of fire.
- You must cooperate with your employer, so far as is necessary, to allow them to comply with their fire safety responsibilities.
Control Measures and Fire Safety Equipment
The EYFS states, “Providers must have appropriate fire detection and control equipment (for example, fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire blankets and/or fire extinguishers) which is in working order. Fire exits must be clearly identifiable, and fire doors must be free of obstruction and easily opened from the inside.”
The control measures and fire safety equipment that you should find in nurseries include:
- Fire alarms – These will sound when they are triggered either by human intervention or by smoke/heat detectors.
- Smoke detectors – These should be in various spots around the nursery, as advised and installed by a competent person. They signal the fire alarms when triggered.
- Fire blankets – Fire blankets are essential. They are made from fire retardant material and extinguish small starting fires.
- Fire extinguishers – In nurseries it is considered to be a necessity to have both water and CO2 fire extinguishers as these should cover all scenarios. The number of fire extinguishers and placements should be outlined in your FSA, with the support of a competent person.
- Emergency lighting – All emergency routes and exits should be well lit. This should include lighting at each door, corridor, change of direction and floor level, staircase, and next to firefighting equipment and alarms.
- Sprinkler systems – Sprinkler systems react very quickly; they can dramatically decrease the heat, flames and smoke produced in a fire. Not all nurseries will have sprinkler systems, but it is something to look into as it can save lives.
- Signage – All fire safety signs should contain pictures so anyone can understand them at a glance. Ensure they are well lit so they can be seen in an emergency, even if the power goes out.
- Fire doors – Fire doors should ALWAYS be kept shut. Fire doors should be placed in such a way that they prevent the spread of the fire, while maintaining escape routes.
Escape plans should be considered when the FSA is undertaken. With the support of a competent person, or persons, the responsible person can plan out escape routes to use during a fire. These will include the fire assembly point, which allows for all employees, visitors and children to be accounted for at a safe distance away from the fire. It is often in playgrounds, on the street or in the staff car park.
Escape plans should allow everybody in the building to escape in the event of a fire and reach the nearest place of safety within two to three minutes. When considering the escape route it is important to consider that your assembly point would not block the entrance of emergency service vehicles. When planning the escape route, with the support of a competent person, you will likely consider various eventualities and aspects of your setting.
- Where the fire doors are will dictate your route.
- A clear pathway. If you have a crowded nursery you might have to move resources around to ensure that you have a path clear of obstructions to the fire exit.
- Different options – it is often useful to have a Plan A and Plan B, just in case something prevents you from using Plan A.
- The needs of the people in your setting. If you have children or adults with disabilities, this can impact the escape routes they will take. Remember that using a lift in a fire is something you definitely shouldn’t be doing! If you’re on a higher floor you should have access to evacuation chairs and staff should be trained to use these.
- Ratios – obviously you will always ensure that you have appropriate ratios, but keeping children calm and guiding them to safety in a fire is tricky. Staff need to be aware of what the procedure is for children within their care. This is especially important to consider if you have babies in your setting.
It is often worth speaking to a competent person about what they advise for your escape route in order to ensure that it is specialised for the people in your setting, in addition to being specialised to the building you are in.
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!
The only way to ensure that staff and children understand the evacuation procedure is to practise it over and over again. It is advised to do it a couple of times per month at the very least. Not only will it help the staff and children get to grips with the procedure, it will also help you to identify things that are not working and adapt these. Fire safety activities, such as practice evacuations, can be a great learning opportunity to discuss fire safety with children too! Incorporate it into your circle time or carpet time as you talk about staying safe and what to do if they see a fire or any dangerous equipment (such as matches or lighters). It is worth considering that often the noise of the fire alarm can scare children, so practising fire drills on a regular basis can help children to get used to the noise, which can make evacuating in the event of an actual fire much easier.
At the end of the day, the priority of nursery staff, whether that be managers, owners or employees, is the safety of the children. Part of that needs to include fire safety. The main takeaway that I would like you to have from this blog post is to get outside help from experts (or competent people) to support you in completing your Fire Safety Assessment and to develop your own knowledge of fire safety. Prevention is key in this case, and the FSA will ensure that you have everything in place to keep your children and staff safe. Remember, that risk assessments are cyclic and should be revisited often and especially when new information comes to light. Training staff in both the details of the FSA and in general fire safety is the key to ensuring that everything goes smoothly in your setting. If in doubt about anything, seek out people knowledgeable about the situation. Your local fire services are always happy to assist you in creating the safest environment you can, and will point you in the direction of other services that can support you too. Fire safety is often a little scary, but you’re not alone! By planning and implementing legislation effectively, with the support of competent persons, you will be in the best position for both preventing fires and managing fires should they occur.