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 firstname.lastname@example.org