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Fire Safety for Places of Worship

Places of worship play an integral part in the lives of our communities. They bring people together, provide a space for ceremonies, prayers or mediations and create a vital support network. Many are of historical interest too and that is why it’s important we work together to keep them safe from the risk of fire.

Electrical Items

You’ll find lamps, portable heaters and even portable tech devices in any place of worship, all of which require plugging in to use or change them.  But with the use of any piece of electrical equipment comes a risk. 

Follow our tip to avoid an electrical fire:

  • Electrical sockets should not be overloaded – use an electrical socket calculator to check if sockets are overloaded: www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk
  • All electrical items must be unplugged before the building is locked up
  • Never leave any electrical items charging overnight, lights and cables should be kept away from flammable materials
  • Don’t hang any decorations from light fittings
  • All decorations should be fire rated
  • Implement a lock up safety process that incorporates fire safety checks.

Candle Safety

Candles play an integral part in any place of worship, signifying faith, religion and prayer or mediation. Any naked flame is a significant fire risk so it is essential they are handled with respect.

  • Consider using battery operated candles

Where this is not possible:

Candle holders

  • Make sure candles are placed in a nonflammable, heat resistant holder to prevent the candle from falling over
  • Ensure the candleholder is big enough for the size of candle you are using
  • Ensure the candleholder is placed on a stable, heatresistant surface
  • Make sure candles are secured in a proper holder and away from flammable materials like curtains and lose clothing.

Candle maintenance

  • Trim candlewicks to 1/4 inch each time before burning. Long or crooked wicks cause flickering, sooting and dripping
  • Don't burn a candle all the way down. Extinguish the flame if it comes too close to the holder or container
  • Always burn candles in a wellventilated room but away from drafts, vents and air currents which may cause rapid flame flare-ups or blow lightweight curtains or papers into the flame
  • Never leave a candle burning. When leaving the building empty, or locking up, ensure candles are completely out
  • Use a snuffer or a spoon to put out candles. It's safer than blowing them out when sparks and hot wax can fly
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and do not place lighted candles where they can be knocked over
  • Never touch a burning candle, or move a candle when the wax is liquid.

Cooking

Some places of worship might be equipped with a kitchen, i.e. in Church halls or a community kitchen in a gurdwara.

  • Never leave cooking unattended if you need to leave the kitchen whilst cooking, take pans off the heat, or turn them down to avoid risk
  • Make sure saucepan handles don't stick out so they don't get knocked off the stove
  • Take care if you're wearing loose clothing clothing can easily catch fire
  • Lighting a gas cooker? Spark devices are safer than matches or lighters because they don't have a naked flame
  • Double check the cooker is off when you have finished cooking
  • Avoid leaving children alone in the kitchen when cooking on the hob
  • Keep matches and sauce pan handles out of reach to keep them safe.

Fire Exits

NOTE: COVID safety measures such as temporary one way systems may compromise or contradict the usual exit strategy. Please ensure this is taken into consideration when planning escape routes and make all staff and visitors aware.

  • Always avoid blocking or obscuring fire exits
  • Ensure exit signs are visible.  These are not necessarily required to be fixed to historic fabrics. To protect historic interiors, other options are available such as fixed floor pedestals.
  • Do not obscure emergency lights with decorations
  • Always consider disabled access & egress
  • Practice evacuations

Alarms, Detection, Lighting

Fire detection systems may be required for life safety in spaces where a fire would not be immediately discovered, for example, roof spaces. However they are invaluable for property protection in unoccupied buildings when connected to an alarm receiving centre or to pagers held by nominated persons such as church wardens.

  • The provision of emergency lighting is to ensure that in the event of power or lighting failure during the hours of darkness, or where there are no windows; people can see the exit routes and negotiate stairs or steps safely
  • Fire alarms, detection, and lighting should be checked regularly, on a scheduled basis, to ensure the system is working correctly
  • Detectors should be checked periodically by a competent contractor in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidance. The contractor may also be able to maintain other items such as emergency lighting and fire extinguishers

Fire Extinguishers

  • Fire extinguishers should be in place and usable, if required and appropriate to do so, in an emergency
  • In historic properties water and CO2 extinguishers cater for most situations and are the type mainly used as they cause the least amount of damage if they are discharged accidentally.
  • Dry powder extinguishers are not suitable for historic properties (except boiler rooms with oil fired boilers) because they will cause extensive damage if discharged, as the powder is corrosive when damp.
  • Fire extinguisher training for staff could be carried out when they are due for their annual service, or joint training with a nearby commercial enterprise, such as a hotel or school, could be arranged to share the costs.

Staff

  • All staff and volunteers should receive fire safety training so that they understand what to do, where to go, and what equipment is available to them should a fire occur.
  • Check and refresh staff and volunteer knowledge regularly.

Rubbish

  • Always remove rubbish and avoid it building up
  • Ensure rubbish kept outside is secure and away from the building and exits
  • Don’t let bins become overfull

In General

For further information please refer to our Heritage Fire Safety Guide