FIREFIGHTERS and teachers joined forces yesterday to warn that new building regulations “significantly increase the fire risk in schools.”
Last summer the government announced that it would not, as expected, require new schools to fit sprinkler systems. The decision was met with protests from the National Union of Teachers and the Fire Brigades Union.
The government’s Building Bulletin guidelines also increased the permitted size of compartmented areas in all schools, which are designed to stop fires from spreading.
The bulletin no longer requires each floor to be compartmented in unsprinklered schools and does not include sections from the original 2007
Bulletin discouraging the use of combustible materials for cladding buildings.
Following last week’s horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in west London, which did not have sprinklers fitted, three union leaders have raised concerns over the government’s refusal to recognise the risks of its new policy.
Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Mary Bousted said: “It is shocking that the government continues to ignore the recommendations on fire safety in schools. The government, now more than ever, needs to make assurances that they will prioritise the health and safety of pupils and staff in school buildings and implement the changes required to keep them safe.”
It is thought that the cladding of Grenfell Tower allowed the fire to spread to engulf the entire building.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “It is staggering we still have to have this debate with the government in the current circumstances.
It highlights the endless problems we have faced when raising fire safety issues over several years.”
The unions spoke out as Labour demanded answers from the government after leaked letters appeared to show that ministers had been repeatedly warned that fire regulations were not keeping people safe at blocks such as Grenfell.
The 12 letters, sent by the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group in the aftermath of a 2009 fatal fire at Lakanal House, south London, show that ministers were warned that people living in high rises were at risk and warned the government “could not afford to wait for another tragedy,” according to the BBC’s Panorama.