*** DEBUG END ***

Reducing the risk of fire

12 February 2016

Until a few years ago, church buildings (especially those consecrated) enjoyed “exemption” under Ecclesiastical Law, and were subject only to the law of faculty. In recent times, things seem to have changed. In matters of health and safety, church premises are now subject to regulation by the county council and inspection by a fire officer.


CHURCHES are subject to many laws that are outside, overlap with, and, at times, seem to conflict with faculty jurisdiction. Fire safety and licensing are two such examples.

Faculty exemption applies to aspects of church buildings that are, for other buildings, governed by the planning authorities. The particular­ities of ecclesiastical buildings are specialised, and are best determined by experienced professionals and the Chancellor.

There are actions for the safety of both employees and members of the public which may be required by law by the fire officer. The manner in which these are applied to the build­ing, however, is subject to fac­ulty: for example, if you plan to install an alarm system, you should apply for faculty.

A fire-risk assessment is com­monly part of a church’s annual safety-risk assessment. There are three main concerns: things that may start a fire, or sources of ignition; things that are com­bustible; and sources of oxygen to feed any result­ant fire.

When you consider how a fire might affect people using the building, think of how they would be warned, and how they would be evacuated. The website www.churchsafety.org.uk suggests that churches look at the following:


  • Ensure that candles are not burnt near to anything combustible.
  • Use heaters carefully. (I would add: ensure that all Calor gas heaters are placed outside after use, or when the church is locked up.)
  • Ensure that electrical wiring is tested and in­­spected regularly.
  • All portable electrical equipment should be reg­ularly tested.
  • Remove all rubbish from the premises. Do not store it around the building, where, if it caught fire, it might in turn set fire to the building.
  • Have good security measures to prevent arson attacks.
  • Reduce the storage of com­bustible material anywhere on the premises.

Depending on the size of the church, you may need a means of alerting people to exit. If you have secondary spaces, you may need a built-in alarm system.

You may need fire detectors in the building, but remember: fire extinguishers are essential.

Your exits should be marked with the “running man” symbol, and doors that are emergency exits must open outwards.

Consider the emergency exit for people who are disabled, or use wheelchairs.

Part of a church’s safety pro­cedure must be to train those who may have to take charge if a fire occurs. Do put procedures into writing, and run through these at a meeting of the PCC, church­wardens, and sidespeople, so that all those in positions of responsibility know what to do.


Send your issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)