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Why ventilation is the secret weapon to keeping schools COVID-secure

Why ventilation is the secret weapon to keeping schools COVID-secure

In the Government press conference on the 22nd February, it was announced that all schools will reopen on the 8th March, and depending on how successful this is in keeping infection cases down, will determine whether we move to the next stage of lockdown easing. During that press conference, Sir Patrick Vallance reiterated the key measures for keeping schools Covid-secure

“ In schools, ventilation is going to be important as children go back, good ventilation. Masks will add to the protection, and hand washing and good hand hygiene adds to the protection ”

Why is ventilation so important when keeping schools Covid-secure?

To understand how ventilation helps, there have been many studies and articles explaining this.

The Government’s ‘Hands, Face, Space’ campaign stated that Coronavirus particles will remain in the air for much longer than Coronavirus droplets as they are far smaller and lighter. Recent research led by the University of Cambridge with Imperial College London, researchers found that:

“In poorly ventilated spaces, the virus behind COVID-19 can spread further than two metres in seconds, and is far more likely to spread through prolonged talking than through coughing”.

In October 2020, Spanish Newspaper El PaÍs published an insightful article; “A room, a bar and a classroom: how the coronavirus is spread through the air”, which examined how transmission varies in these different environments depending on the precautions in place. Inside a classroom of 24 students with a teacher who has Covid-19 (and no counter-measures being taken), up to 12 students could become infected within 2hrs. This reduces to 5 students when face masks are used. When ventilation is introduced the risk drops dramatically to one person or less. The importance that ventilation plays in reducing the spread of Covid transmission was promoted equally in all scenarios. All included opening doors as well as windows as part of ventilation measures.

Good airflow can protect against the asymptomatic

In November, the not-for-profit media website The Conversation published an article written by Shelly Miller, the Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she wrote on how keeping indoor air clean can reduce the chance of spreading coronavirus. She reminds us that 40% of cases are asymptomatic, which can help explain how a teacher can end up addressing a classroom when no countermeasures against the virus are taken. Her guidance on airflow in the home states:

“A typical air exchange rate for a home is around 0.5 air changes per hour. Because of the complicated way air moves, that translates into taking about two hours to replace two-thirds of the air inside an average home, and about six hours to replace all of it …//… In a pandemic this should be higher, and the World Health Organization recently recommended six air changes per hour”.

All of this is supported by The Hands, Face, Space campaign which said:

“Research shows that being in a room with fresh air can reduce the risk of infection from particles by over 70%”.

What does Government guidance say?

With Councils and the Health & Safety Executive having further powers to shut premises for not being Covid-secure, it is important to take all necessary precautions to comply with Government and public expectations. The Department of Education’s ‘Higher education: operational guidance’ makes it clear about what is expected from educational establishments in regards to ventilation:

  • You should ensure that all indoor and covered areas have good ventilation in addition to other methods of risk reduction.
  • Where possible, poorly ventilated spaces should be adapted to improve ventilation or, if that is not possible, they should not be used as a teaching/learning location.
  • You should consider ways to maintain and increase the supply of fresh air, for example, by opening windows and doors (excluding fire doors) – we’ll come back to this point shortly.
  • Also, consider if you can improve the circulation of outside air and prevent pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces.
  • Air conditioning systems should rely on fresh rather than recycled air

With Educational Secretary Nick Gibb announcing on the 25th February that it will not be made compulsory for students to wear face coverings in class, ventilation has become even more vital in keeping transmission rates down. But with many classrooms having one entry point and that door usually being a fire door, is the Government right to be saying they cannot be held open?

Can fire doors be held open to improve ventilation?

Since 23rd March 2020 (the day of the first lockdown announcement), nearly 10,000 people have viewed Fireco’s blog “is it illegal to wedge open a fire door”. With all the pressure on businesses to be COVID-secure, people have been seeking clarification on whether this takes precedence over fire safety.

On the 15th April 2020, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) managed to get clarification from the Minister for the State for Security, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, that Key Worker status applied to all fire industry employees providing essential services.

Also that month, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) released their guidance; Covid-19 – Protection – Advice to Businesses, to provide consistency for Fire and Rescue Services when issuing guidance to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the COVID-19 Protection Fire Safety FAQs they make it clear that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 still applies and that it is “the duty of the Responsible Person to ensure risk from fire is identified and suitable measures implemented”. One key point raised was the issue of wedging fire doors:

“Q. Can we wedge open fire doors to stop people from touching handles?

A. No, fire doors are an important fire safety measure, keep fire doors closed and follow government advice on hand washing and cleansing hard surfaces. Fire doors can only be held open by automatic releasing hold-open devices specifically designed and installed for this purpose”.

Unlike the Department of Education’s ‘Higher education: operational guidance’, it is made clear that rather than using a door wedge, there are legal and compliant ways to hold open a fire door that can be used to increase ventilation and reduce touchpoints.

Keeping schools Covid-secure with Fireco

In 2020, Fireco saw unprecedented demand for its Dorgard range, as companies from all sectors saw it as the quick, easy and compliant way to satisfy both fire safety and COVID-safety requirements within their buildings. Fireco’s Dorgard range has been a market leader for retrofit fire door retainers for over 25 years and by September 2020 we had sold our millionth Dorgard. One of the reasons for this surge in demand during the pandemic is the fact that Dorgard is ready straight from the box and only takes four screws to attach to the door – a simple task for any handyman.

Every type of workplace has invested in Dorgards – ranging from primary schools & care homes to social media giants & Grand Prix teams – and this is expected to continue now that the Government has laid out the roadmap for easing restrictions. It’s been made clear that in order to have our freedom back in June, we need to keep infection rates down and increasing ventilation will be fundamental in achieving this.

Buy Dorgard today and improve ventilation to help keep your school COVID-secure.

Written by James Cox, Senior Sales Manager at Fireco.

Back to school safely with Fireco

Back to school safely with Fireco

Staff and students will be returning for the new year so it’s important to make sure your school is prepared and has all the necessary safety measures in place to remain COVID-secure.

Places of education have a duty of care to students and will already use the Governments advice on Health and Safety. However, it is important that a specific Coronavirus Risk Assessment is completed. By doing this, Coronavirus hazards can be identified, measured and controlled.

There are different resources available for Coronavirus Risk Assessments, however, The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has created this template which can be used by all industries.

Fireco’s products have already been helping many businesses, hospitals and schools with their germ-control. Here are some of the hazards identified by HSE that Fireco can help with.

Ventilation

Buildings should have good ventilation and fresh air circulating throughout. Our hold-open devices allow you to legally and safely hold your doors open which will improve airflow. When the fire alarm is activated, the doors will automatically close. With colder weather approaching, it’s important to have other methods in place to ensure good ventilation throughout your school, as keeping the windows open won’t always be a suitable option.

Pinch points

High traffic areas in the school such as Reception, hallways, doorways, toilets, lifts, changing rooms, canteens, break rooms etc are going to need to be monitored. Our hold-open devices will allow you to keep your doors open, reducing the need to touch door handles, limiting the risk of cross-contamination. Our Smart Sanitising System, Germgard, can be installed by entry and exit points, which will promote the use of hand sanitiser before passing through.

Anxiety around Coronavirus

Being isolated from lockdown and social distancing can heighten feelings of anxiety about returning to normal activities such as attending school. Many students and staff members will need assurances and physical evidence that there are practices in place to maintain hygiene. Germgard is a clear and visual way to encourage good hygiene. A sensor will detect someone approaching and a screen with digital signage will prompt them to use hand sanitiser before entering. This system could be ideal for a reception area, break room, or delivery bay as staff and visitors passing through will use hand sanitiser before being allowed entry. Our hold-open devices can create a more open atmosphere and reduce the need to touch door handles, this could also be encouraging for people who are concerned about contaminated surfaces.

Inadequate hygiene

If people on the school premises are not keeping up good personal hygiene, they could easily cross-contaminate items they touch. Germgard is designed to promote good hygiene practices to building users through the use of hand sanitiser. It can also be integrated with access control and other systems to further reinforce sanitisation by only allowing entry once the sanitiser has been used.

Fireco can help keep schools fire-safe and COVID-secure. If you would like to know how we can help your school, contact us today on 01273 320650.

What has the Bolton student accommodation fire taught us?

What has the Bolton student accommodation fire taught us?

In November 2019 third-party student accommodation in Bolton known as ‘The Cube’ went up in flames. It took 40 fire engines and 9 hours for the fire service to get it under control and left 220 students with no belongings or place to live.

The University of Bolton, although not liable, re-homed all of the students affected, placing them in hotels, providing them with food and toiletries and giving each of them £500 cash to buy essential items. This cost the University around £1M.

The blaze has since raised issues about the safety of residents in third-party student accommodation.

Dangerous Cladding

The fire is thought to have been caused by a discarded cigarette, however, this is still under investigation. In the meantime, the biggest question being asked is why did the fire spread in a way that resembled the Grenfell tragedy.

Much research has been carried out on cladding used on high-rise buildings. Although the one used on The Cube (high-pressure laminate) was not the same type as the one used on Grenfell (aluminium composite material), it is still classed as a flammable material.

Fire alarms ignored by students

The Manchester Evening News interviewed some of the students who had fled the building and found that many of them didn’t respond when the fire alarms went off.

“I was just sitting there, hanging about and not really doing anything. Then someone knocked on my door.”

“The fire alarm was going off but nobody was paying any attention. It goes off all the time, maybe every hour during the day because someone has done something in the kitchen and it’s set off the alarm.

“if it had gone up in the middle of the night everyone would have slept through the alarm. We have slept through them before when there were non-emergencies.”

Bolton University Students

Universities urged to review fire safety

Whilst the causes and spread of the fire were being uncovered and investigated, Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, wrote to all universities urging them to review their own and their third-party providers fire safety procedures. This came after Union Leaders wrote to him raising concerns for students’ health and safety.

What can Universities and their providers do in order to be compliant and increase the safety of students?

Union Leaders proposed to Gavin Williamson that the following actions should be taken:

  • Remove dangerous and flammable cladding on educational buildings.
  • Carefully consider the use of building materials on all new builds and avoid the use of cladding known to be dangerous.
  • Fit sprinklers in new accommodation and educational buildings.
  • Review of all educational buildings to establish if standards are being met.

Other actions that can be taken include:

  • Arrange for a fire risk assessment to be carried out by a professional body so that all risks can be identified and eliminated.
  • Put in place systems that can ensure the safety of all students like Fireco’s Deafgard or Digital Messaging System.
  • Carry out regular fire drills and evacuations with students so they are prepared if a fire does occur.
  • Teach students basic fire safety awareness, for example, common causes of fires and preventative measures and how to use provided fire equipment.

Fireco is here to make compliance easy. If you need help with fire safety in your university or accommodation facility, contact us today on 01273 320650.

Upgrade your fire safety and reduce your maintenance

*Photo credit @Manchesterfire on Twitter

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Fireco introduces Compliance as a Service

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We are pleased to announce Compliance as a Service (CaaS). A new service option available for Digital Messaging Service and Dorgard SmartSound.

We understand that in some sectors such as education and care homes, it can be difficult to get approval on larger payments and raise capital expenditure. Although our products will improve the daily running of the business, they may not be considered as an ‘essential’. Compliance as a Service will make our fire safety systems more accessible to businesses that experience budget restraints.

CaaS is a service through subscription, your company will receive the product range with added benefits including surveys, installation, maintenance, technical support and product replacement in the event of accidental damage. The subscription allows payment to fall into your business’ operational budget.

“Finding even a relatively small amount of capital can be difficult in this current climate, many people I speak to on a daily basis find themselves with a requirement for our products but have their hands tied by being unable to pay for everything upfront. I’m really excited that we have launched CaaS as it gives people the ability to improve compliance in their building with more budget-friendly monthly payments.” 
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If you would like more information about CaaS then please contact us on 01273 320650 or email us at contact@fireco.uk.

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How to minimise the risk of arson in schools

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Arson is a criminal act which can lead to devastating consequences. Arson in schools is more common than some may think. In the UK there is an estimate of between 1400-1800 school fires each year, with 75% of these thought to be caused on purpose*.

It is important that there is a clear understanding on who is responsible for the risk management of fire on the school premises. This could include; school governors, head teachers, the caretaker, the premises manager and Local Education Authority. Once the relevant people have been identified, responsibilities can be delegated and a fire action plan can be put in place.

All schools should have a fire action plan that includes instructions on assessment, prevention and recovery. It may even be beneficial to have a visit from a professional external body who can carry out an official assessment on the school.

Here are some key points to consider as part of your action plan:

Deter and prevent unauthorised entry onto the site

The Arson Prevention Bureau has found most cases of arson take place outside of school hours with 11pm being peak time**. This could be because the perpetrator will feel as though there is less risk of them being caught out as they may not be seen. There are lots of ways you can deter and prevent unauthorised access to the school property:

  • Staff living on site or next to the school means there is a constant monitor on the premises.
  • External doors and windows should have a thief resistant locking system.
  • Intruder alarms should be fitted, and all appropriate people should receive notification in the event of an emergency, including the security providers.
  • Liaising with neighbours and local schemes such as Neighbourhood watch.
  • CCTV should be fitted near all entrance points, plus hidden areas of the premises.
  • There should be an end of day procedure to ensure all exits are closed, locked and alarms are set.

Reduce the opportunity for a fire to be started

Good maintenance should be kept on site so that there are minimal things that can be used to set fire to or ignite a fire with.

  • All rubbish/ recycling bins should be stored in a secure location at least 8 metres away from the building. They should all be kept in a container made from fire resistant materials and locked. Other storage areas such as sheds should also be kept at least 8 metres away from the building to prevent spread.
  • All pipework should be hidden or protected.
  • Electric and gas metres should be in a secure environment.
  • Any mobile buildings should be filled at the bottom to avoid a fire being started underneath.
  • The school and immediate surrounding areas should be checked regularly to ensure there is nothing that could be used to start a fire.

Reduce the extent of potential fire damage

An uncontrolled fire can lead to devastating damage for the school. For example, losing school records, artefacts, notes, pupil exam work and certificates that have all been collected for many years. If a fire were to break out there needs to be a plan to minimise damage:

  • Install an automatic fire detection system.
  • Compartmentation (the building is built in different fire-resistant compartments).
  • Install and regularly check fire safety equipment e.g. fire doors, sprinkler systems and extinguishers.
  • Keep all property of high value in a secure location where the contents will be protected and can be retrieved.
  • All staff should be fire trained, there should be appointed fire marshals, and there should be someone responsible for checking all fire safety in the building.

It is important to consider these points to ensure that your school building, its content and its people are safe from the risk of arson. If these points are put into action, it could help to reduce the overall amount of school fires and prevent the devastating damage that a fire can cause.

*https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/LFW01/LFW01.pdf

**www.firesafe.org.uk

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Why do students wedge open fire doors?

Why do students wedge open fire doors?

Universities and halls of residence have a higher than normal risk of fire. With 80% of students admitting to regularly taking part in activities that risk fire in their accommodation*. One element of fire safety that often seems to be considered as more of a hindrance than help, are fire doors.

Fire doors are a vital part of fire safety, especially for places of multiple occupancy. They compartmentalise a room by trapping a fire for 30-60 minutes. This allows more time for the fire service to reach the fire and extinguish it before it spreads through the whole building. If the fire doors in university halls are wedged open, a fire will spread extremely quickly, putting lives at risk and causing damage to housing.

So why do students wedge open fire doors?

Social reasons- Students have left home for the first time and will want to meet as many people as possible, especially the ones in their living area. An ‘open door policy’ may be applied so that they seem more welcoming to new friends. If every door in their flat is going to close automatically, the students will wedge them open.

Practical purposes- Especially on moving in day, students will want ease of access to their room in order to move everything in. Some fire officers will allow a temporary wedging to help with this. However, students may feel this to be more convenient than their door being closed, so are likely to continue using a wedge.

To reduce noise- There is a lot of human traffic going through university halls, meaning that the fire doors will be closing regularly. Fire doors are very heavy and some door closers cause them to slam shut. Consequently, leading to students wedging them open to minimise noise.

To improve access- Heavy fire doors with automatic door closers can be problematic for people with mobility issues. This may lead to doors being wedged open for ease of access around their flat.

May be unaware- Students have been living in a home environment where fire safety may not be a concern and fire doors may not have been around. Because of this students might not realise the important role that fire doors have.

Influence of alcohol- Throughout university, and especially freshers week, there will be many parties and nights out- usually with drinking involved. This can be where risky behaviour is increased. For example, 50% of students admit to cooking whilst under the influence*, also known as ‘drunk frying’. Along with this comes drying clothes on electric heaters and smoking inside.

On top of this, students may also take batteries from fire alarms, and disable door closers by damaging them.

In October 2015, a fire spread through university accommodation in Bristol. The fire was started by an unattended pan of oil left on a stove and it got so severe that all students in the building had to be evacuated. After the fire had been controlled, the building had been deemed unsafe to live, meaning over 100 students were rehomed. No students were harmed from this incident because all the fire alarms went off and everyone evacuated.

The video also shows the massive role that fire doors play. You can see that the fire door on one side is completely damaged by the fire and one side is still mostly intact. This is a demonstration of how fire doors compartmentalise a building and help trap a fire to reduce or slow spread.

A students priorities are not always in line with fire safety strategies. Students feel in their daily lives that they need to use wedges under their doors because they have no other option. However, there are safer ways to hold open doors. Hold-open devices and free swing door closers can be applied in order to improve access and ventilation, whilst complying with regulations and keeping the building fire safe.

*https://web.zurich.co.uk/municipal/products-and-services/your-sector/further-and-higher-education/student-fires

**Video https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-34513810

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