Future Of Fire Safety In UK Schools, Hospitals Grounded In Technology

Fire Exit signThe current state of UK fire safety in education and hospital buildings

  • According to ONS and London Fire Brigade data:
    • Education premises accounted for 4.2% of primary accidental fires (477 fires total) in the year ending March 2019. Hospitals and medical care buildings accounted for 3.8% (437 fires total).
    • For residential dwellings in London – 20% of fires in ‘other dwellings’ (e.g. not house/flats) in 2019 occurred in nursing/care homes or hospices. 14% occurred in student residence halls.
    • More broadly, 10% of fires in the UK were due to electrical distribution faults in the year ending March 2019 – despite the existence of technology which can predict when an electrically ignited fire is likely to occur and shut down the circuit to prevent it starting. There were 9 fatalities caused by electrical distribution fires in the year ending March 2019 (up from 8 the year before) across all types of dwellings.
  • According to an FOI for the Department for Education’s school condition data collection (CDC) programme (2017-2019), one in six schools in England require urgent repairs:
    • 2,717 (13%) did not have a fire risk assessment
    • 2,098 (10%) did not have an electrical test certificate
    • 2,215 (11%) did not have a gas safety test report


Marc Gaunt, segment lead, commercial buildings, Eaton:

So, how can new technologies help reduce fire safety risks across education and healthcare premises?

“The UK government’s tunnel vision around carbon and cladding in high rise residential buildings is putting some of our most vulnerable at risk. Whilst hazardous cladding and carbon reduction are very real challenges which must be addressed, the government cannot risk focusing on these to the detriment of wider building safety. Instead, they must be addressed together with other existing building safety risks, including those which can be easily solved through existing technologies.



“Improving fire safety standards in public buildings needs to be a priority for the government and those responsible for building safety. This can only happen with a holistic approach that takes into consideration investments to meet safety needs across the spectrum of risk, for both today and tomorrow.

“As facilities managers and building owners navigate this complicated threat landscape, it’s vital that they explore the technology that can reduce risks. For instance, many electrically-ignited fires – one of the most frequent causes of fires in the UK – can be prevented before they even start through Arc Fault Detection Devices (AFDDs) while new, adaptive emergency lighting can avoid congestion and get people to safety faster.

“As threats continue to evolve, it’s important the government is taking stock of existing technologies, and investing in the right areas today, to improve the overall safety standards of some of our most critical public buildings.”

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What should the future of building safety standards look like?

“Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Hackitt Review suggested the government take a more sophisticated approach to defining new building safety standards which currently only apply to a small set of commercial buildings considered at ‘high risk’ for tragic events (specifically multi-occupancy high-rise residential buildings). However, there is a growing consensus that the height of a building alone is not sufficient to characterise risk.

“Alarmingly, the Hackitt Review cites statistics indicating that for buildings of any height (excluding prisons and agriculture where incidents are significantly higher), hospitals and education buildings (for example, halls of residence and boarding schools) present some of the highest fire risks. Considering the existing levels of risk coupled with the complexity of the buildings in question and the potential vulnerability of occupants, I believe government should look to close the scope gap as soon as possible and bring in specific measures to build in additional protection for occupants of these building types. Ultimately, there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to building safety.

“There will also be a likely strengthening of the oversight and regulation of construction products. Whilst no one wishes to see unnecessary constraints, additional costs or bureaucracy, the Hackitt report made it clear that a significant change in UK construction culture needs to take place. We must evolve our ‘fit and forget’ culture, and revisit building safety measurements more regularly. Whilst cost is a factor, safety cannot be sacrificed to meet budgets. Yet sadly, all too often we see specification reduction, and a bypassing of innovative technologies, without full consideration of the consequences.

“So, how do we avoid the cost cutting? The government needs to put in place a viable enforcement regime from a product perspective. From evidence already provided in the case of Grenfell, it would appear that ultimately the disaster was as a result of multiple product failings, poor installation practice/process and culture. Ultimately, this led to a large-scale tragedy which we want to avoid again at all costs.”

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