Advice & Guidance

Fire Safety

Fire damaged roof timbersIt is now five years since the laws which deal with the issue of fire safety were consolidated into the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

This legislation places a duty on those responsible for places of worship to carry out a fire safety risk assessment and is supported by a series of guidance notes for different building types produced by the government.

Fire Safety Risk Assessment - Small and Medium Places of Assembly provides advice on what needs to be done to comply with current fire safety law and will guide you through the process of carrying out a risk assessment.

Carrying out the assessment may well indicate the need to make changes to the way the building is used and may also indicate a need for a certain level of fire fighting equipment. 

Powder filled fire extinguisherA typical installation in a place of worship might comprise a carbon dioxide extinguisher near the organ and either a six or a nine-litre water filled extinguisher placed by each of the exit points. If you have a boiler room, it might also be wise to install a dry powder extinguisher in that location.  Take care with dry powder extinguishers though - they should not normally be used elsewhere in places of worship as they leave a corrosive residue when discharged. This residue is difficult and extremely expensive to remove from fragile surfaces.

Advice specific to places of worship can be found in a booklet entitled Fire Risk Assessment Principles for Church Premises produced by the Churches' Legislation Advisory Service

Lightning ConductorLightning: The provision of a lightning conductor system will not prevent the occurrence of a lightning strike. The purpose of the installation is to direct the current discharged from the strike to earth safely, protecting the structure and its occupants from the effects of the strike. Fires arising from lightning strikes can be minimised by ensuring that the lightning protection system is always in working order. The continuity of the conductors can be broken during building repairs or ground excavations. If lightning conductors are disturbed, they should be repaired immediately. It is also important to implement a regular testing regime.

Find out more about the need to properly test your lightning protection system in our quick guide.

ScaffoldingBuilding works: It is important that all parties are aware of the risks that occur during building works and time should be taken to make sure that these risks are properly addressed. Smoking must be prohibited at all times and naked flames should not generally be allowed. Hot works permits can be used in special circumstances but only under the strictest supervision by the contract administrator. Any temporary wiring for electric tools or heating should be disconnected each evening. You should also ensure that waste materials are cleared away immediately and never stored within the church building.

 

Gas bottleFlammable materials: Cleaning materials and polishes can be a particular hazard and only the minimum amounts necessary should be stored on the premises. These must be kept in a safe place. Bottles of gas and cans of petrol or other fuel for mowers should never be stored inside the building.

Make sure that stacks of old papers or similar flammable materials do not accumulate where they may cause a hazard.

Rubbish: Remove rubbish as soon as possible and store it well away from the building. If rubbish is collected in wheeled rubbish bins secure these in a location at some distance from the building to minimise the risk of arson. Wheeled bins have occasionally been used as makeshift firebombs or as braziers and have also been used to gain access to roof areas.

Fire extinguishersFire safety equipment: Fire safety equipment such as fire blankets, extinguishers, door closers etc. should be provided where necessary and kept in good order. The existing equipment should be checked weekly or monthly depending on how often the building is used to ensure that each item of equipment is in the right place and has not been used or damaged.

It is advisable to maintain a written record of these inspections. Professional inspections should be carried out at recommended intervals by a qualified contractor and their advice followed.

 

Arson: Secure your building against arson attack as far as possible. Within the limits of an ‘open church' policy, keep people away from towers, boiler rooms and store rooms but display information as to where the keys can be found in case of an emergency. There are a number of steps you can take to increase the security of your building such as making sure that there is adequate security lighting. You might also consider participating in a neighbourhood watch scheme.

Fire safety checklist

  • Carry out a regular safety audit, taking the opportunity to clear out stacks of old papers and other flammable materials from the premises. You might ask someone in the congregation who doesn't normally have responsibility for health and safety matters to have a good look around your building - they might notice problems or issues that you haven't spotted!
  • Review your fire safety risk assessment regularly and revise it if necessary.
  • Make sure that all fire extinguishers are inspected and tested at least annually by a firm registered with BAFE (British Approvals for Fire Equipment).  An extended service involving a discharge test and refill is generally required at five and ten yearly intervals.

Fire in a churchyard

  • Carry out a visual check of fire extinguishers on a weekly or a monthly basis depending on how often the building is used.  Check that each fire extinguisher is located in its designated place and not hidden behind curtains of otherwise obscured; that the operating instructions for each extinguisher are clean, legible and facing outwards; that the extinguishers have not been used (either deliberately or by mistake) and are not obviously damaged; that the reading on any pressure gauge or other indicator fitted to the extinguishers is within operational and safety limits; and that the seals and tamper indicators on each extinguisher are in place and intact.
  • Test smoke alarms regularly and clean them if necessary. Remember to replace the batteries regularly too.
  • Carry out a visual inspection of any lightning protection systems and take advice from your insurer about implementing a professional testing regime.
  • If you use candles during the festive season think carefully about any necessary safety precautions. 
  • Consider whether it is appropriate to initiate fire safety training for those who regularly use your place of worship.  Your local fire service should be able to offer advice about training courses in your area.

Fire Escape with Grab RailsFurther information

There is a helpful summary of what current fire safety legislation means for places of worship on the Churchcare website.

The government's advice on fire safety can be downloaded from the Communities and Local Government website.

Good advice on fire safety risk assessment can be found on the website of The Methodist Church.

Sensible advice on the safe use of candles can be found on the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group website.

Ecclesiastical has also produced a guidance note about Fire Safety and advice on how to choose the appropriate type of fire extinguisher for your place of worship.

© SPAB 20102