Tuesday 23 January 2018

Department of Education stepping up its response to fire safety concerns in schools

Minister Richard Bruton at the Department of Education
Photo: Mark Condren
Minister Richard Bruton at the Department of Education Photo: Mark Condren
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The Department of Education is stepping up its response to concerns about fire safety in schools.

It has announced a beefed-up series of measures arising from the revelations about non-compliance with safety standards in a number of “rapid build” schools.

As a first step, it is undertaking a fire safety audit of all schools built by Western Building Systems (WBS), the firm that built the schools in question since the “rapid build” programme began in 2008

When the controversy blew up earlier  this month, the Department committed only to an audit of a representative  sample 25  schools built in the past 20 years, to include some built by WBS.

That audit  will  go ahead but, the Department will also  appoint an expert to  conduct a separate check on all 30 WBS schools, built since 2003, over the next six months.

A Department spokesperson  that it did have any reason to believe that there were any fire safety issues in respect of any of the other buildings built by WBS.

“ 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.”

In each case, the Department is seeking  an early report if any issue of significant concern is discovered.

The announcement came as Education Minister  Richard Bruton was due to appear before the Oireachtas education committee on the fire safety in schools.

The spokesperson  added that it important to note that the Department did not believe that there were 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.

A tender for fire safety consultants to conduct the audit on the 25 sample schools is expected to be completed next month, and the Department is expected that work to   conclude by January 2018.

The Department has also committed to a wider  set of measures to address any concerns and has , or will:

*contact associations such as  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) with regard to inspection and certification  and to remind them of their legal duties in this regard

* write 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

* issue a new Circular to all schools bringing the attention of the school authorities to their obligations in relation to fire safety management protocols.

* 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.

* set up an internal fire safety committee is being established within the Department. .

*under a new protocol from now on, when the Department receives a fire audit report which demonstrates issues in a building regarding fire safety, it  will immediately notify the school’s patron body,  board of management and the Fire Officer in the relevant Local Authority.

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.

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