September 30, 2020

86% of UK schools at risk from hidden fire hazard

Many of the UK’s 30,000 schools face a fire safety threat because they are using noticeboards in classrooms and hallways that do not meet UK building standards. In some cases, noticeboards have been manufactured using fire-lighting material and are now in circulation within the UK school system.

The revelations, which are particularly shocking given the context of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, have been made by Gloucestershire based noticeboard manufacturer, Sundeala. The company is now launching a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about the hidden fire hazard in our schools, supported by Labour MP for Stroud, David Drew.

Mr Drew, a former teacher, raised his concerns about noticeboard fire safety in a special debate in Parliament last October, during which he called for better regulation of noticeboard materials, greater awareness, and changes to school fire risk guidelines.

Sundeala, which makes recyclable noticeboards that do meet UK standards, found that just six of 43 schools it recently surveyed could confirm all their noticeboards met the required standards. The findings point to the scale of the problem with 86% of 30,000 schools potentially at risk.

The survey also revealed that most schools have hundreds of noticeboards on their walls. The vast majority of these are bought online with cost being the driving factor in decision making.

David Drew MP said: “The materials that some companies use to make noticeboards are also in other contexts advertised as firelighters. That really drew my attention. I have called for the Government to ensure that there is a level playing field for manufacturers and for school fire risk assessment guidelines to be updated.”

Peter Hambro, Chairman of Sundeala, added: “Noticeboards look the same to most people, especially when viewed online. However, fire tests reveal just how stark the difference really is. One is a hazard and potential death trap; the other offers hope of averting a tragedy. It should be obvious which one our schools should be using. More needs to be done by Government to ensure everyone understands the building standards in this country and can review these products with a wider lens than just cost.”

The campaigners are also calling for online retailers, such as Amazon, to take greater responsibility for their role in ensuring manufacturers provide the appropriate safety information online if they are selling into the UK market. Many thousands of noticeboards are bought online but the information supplied about their safety standards is often insufficient and sometimes non-existent.

David Drew added: “Online retailers have an obligation to get this issue right for consumers. They should demand manufacturers from all over the world are clear about what is being produced and sold. It is that simple.”