60 schools around the country are to be audited for fire safety standards after five recently built schools were found to be in breach of regulations.
The Minister For Education, Richard Bruton, said the audits are not being carried out on the basis of concerns about standards but told an Oireachtas Education Committee it was important to make sure all school buildings are fully compliant.
Here is the full text of a press release released today by the Department of Education on the issue:
The Department of Education and Skills today announced that it will be putting in a place a comprehensive package of measures to ensure fire safety measures in schools meet best practice.
Ensuring the safety of all those who work and learn in our schools is a main priority of the Department of Education and Skills.
These measures are being undertaken as an added precaution by the Department, following on from consultation with stakeholders after recent concerns at home and abroad regarding fire safety in public buildings.
It is important to note that the Department does not believe that there are issues regarding fire safety with schools generally, rather these measures are being taken in order to take an abundance of caution approach in this area.
Firstly, the Department will appoint a fire safety expert to undertake a complete audit of all school buildings constructed by Western Building Systems (WBS). This follows on from the identification of a number of issues in respect of the compliance by a number of schools constructed by WBS with their fire safety certificates.
The Department, at this stage, do not have any reason to believe that there are any fire safety issues in respect of any of the other buildings built by Western Building Systems. These audits are a proactive measure being taken, following on from consultation with stakeholders, to satisfy the Department that there are no further issues with school buildings constructed by that company.
It is anticipated that this will take approximately 6 months to complete this number of audits. However, in each case, the Department will require an early report from the Fire Safety Consultants conducting the audit if any issue of significant concern is discovered.
Further to this and as previously announced, the Department is in the process of commissioning fire safety audits of a representative sample of up to 25 schools constructed over the last 20 years. It should be noted that each school building is already required to have and comply with a fire certificate awarded at time of construction by the local authority.
It is important to note that the selection of a school to be included in the sample for this audit in no way means that the Department has concerns about that particular school. Regarding the timeline for this sample audit, it is expected to be concluded by January 2018.
The tender for the appointment of fire safety consultants will be completed by the mid October. It is expected that the first set of Fire Safety Audit Reports will be provided to the Department by the end of December 2017.
The Department will also contact the representative Professional Associations, principally the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland ((RIAI), Engineer’s Ireland (IEI) and the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland (ACEI) to discuss the operation of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations (2014) to re-iterate the responsibilities of Design Teams to fully engage in a complete and comprehensive way with the inspection and certification requirements of BC(A)R (2014).
It is the responsibility of the Design Team appointed to build a school to ensure that a newly constructed building is compliant with it’s Fire Certificate. The Department is writing to these associations to remind them of their members’ legal duties in this regard.
The Department has also written to all Design Teams working on buildings currently under construction to remind them of their responsibilities to ensure that all buildings comply with fire certificates awarded by the local authority
The Department will also issue a new Circular to all schools bringing the attention of the school authorities to their obligations in relation to Fire Safety management protocols. Detailed guidance documents are already in place to advice schools on managing Health and Safety in schools that includes comprehensive advice on the issue of managing the risk of fire.
The Department will, going forward, appoint a Clerk of Works to all future major building projects to enhance the oversight and inspection of works when they are being carried out. This person, who will be appointed by the Department of Education and Skills, will provide an extra layer of checking and oversight during the construction process.
Additionally, an internal fire safety committee is being established within the Department. This group will be made up of both technical and administrative staff, and will monitor any patterns arising from day to day interactions with schools, the results from the various audits and their own recent experience to shape any further action in this regard.
Finally, under a new protocol from now on, when the Department receives a fire audit report which demonstrates issues in a building regarding fire safety, the Department will immediately notify the school’s Patron Body, the school’s Board of Management and the Fire Officer in the relevant Local Authority.
These audits and actions will inform any further action which may be required by the Department to ensure that they are satisfied with the fire safety measures in place to protect schools.
The Department will now contact the Chief Fire Officers Association to inform them of the above steps which are being taken. A new protocol will also be put in place to keep them up to date with any further developments in this area.
It is worth noting again that the Department has no reason to believe that there are issues with fire safety provisions in schools generally. These additional steps are an added precaution being taken by the Department, prompted by recent concerns in Ireland and abroad regarding fire safety in public buildings.