School Safety efforts need to take cognizance of all kinds of hazards that may affect the well- being of children. These may include natural hazards such as floods and earthquakes as well as manmade hazards. Hazards include structural and non- structural factors. Structural factors include dilapidated buildings, poorly designed structures, faulty construction, poorly maintained infrastructure, loose building elements, etc. while non structural factors include loosely placed heavy objects such as almirahs, infestation of the campus by snakes and any other pests, broken or no boundary walls, uneven flooring, blocked evacuation routes, poorly designed and placed furniture that may cause accidents and injury, inadequate sanitation facilities etc. Safety of children, their teachers and parents needs to be approached holistically to include visible as well as invisible risks that may be sudden on-set or have built-up slowly over a period of time.
Safety actions to be implemented in schools as outlined in the "National Disaster Management Guidelines- School Safety Policy" are as follows.
Appropriate Siting, Design and detailing for structural safety in new schools and repairing of existing schools
All existing as well as new schools need to conform to safety standards as per the National Building Code. In addition, any other norms prescribed by the state government need to be adhered to. Some of these actions are given below:
- New schools should be located, on a site that has adequate mitigation measures already in place against any imminent natural hazards. Existing schools located in a vulnerable location should either be relocated at a safer site or they should be provided adequate support to mitigate the effect of any natural hazards that may affect the area.
- All new school constructions should include disaster resilient features. Existing vulnerable schools need to be repaired to the desired level of resilience with regard to local disaster risks.
- Prescribed designs may be adapted to accommodate safety and child friendly features.
- For design of structural standards of school building and its components such as corridors, staircases, side areas, quality of construction should be as per the National Building Code 2005. Only non-combustible, fire-proof, heat resistant materials shall be used in school construction.
- Vertical expansion of existing schools shall not be carried out without a fitness certificate for the building from a certified civil / structural engineer.
- Additional classrooms or any other structures requiring horizontal expansion shall be designed taking into account the space availability and while constructing as a continuous unit to the existing structures, these should be designed to have less impact of seismic forces.
- Each class room should have two doors for easy evacuation; adequate openings for ventilation and lighting are some of the essential elements that need to be accommodated in the design.
- Doors opening outside, into open areas or corridors of adequate width are key details that need to be incorporated to make schools safer.
All of these and any other additional ones, require the guidance and support of a panel of technical agencies to be identified at the state level and designated to work in specific districts. In this manner location specific designs can be worked out with adequate attention to safety features as well as child friendly elements. Besides these details, other design solutions in line with the Whole School Development Concept need to be incorporated to promote safety and child friendly features. Elements pertaining to school safety should be included in the whole school development approach.
Nonstructural safety measures in schools
Besides structural safety measures, non structural elements within the school campus need to be addressed to ensure safety. These are mostly low cost, regular maintenance items that the school should address on a regular basis from their own funds. Some of these items have been listed below:
- All items of furniture such as almirahs, shelves, black boards etc., as well as any other items that may fall and cause injury to students and teachers such as ceiling fans, coolers, water tanks etc. need to be secured to the walls or floor.
- Any electrical items such as loose wires that may cause an exigency should be addressed promptly by the school.
- Chemical and any hazardous materials in the school laboratory should be handled and stored as per instructions to prevent any harm to students and school staff.
- Open areas including corridors and evacuation routes including staircases and ramps should be kept free from any hurdles and barriers so that evacuation is smooth and swift.
- Pots / planters in the play ground or corridors should be kept in a manner that does not affect smooth evacuation
- Any derelict or unused building, rubble, etc. should be removed to prevent any harmful animals or pests from accessing children.
- Traffic movement outside the school should be managed to minimize risk to students at the time of assembling and dispersal of school.
- During excursions, schools should carefully choose the location of excursion and the itinerary so that exposure to hazard is minimized. Extra precautions should be taken when students are being taken close to water bodies, narrow mountainous tracks etc.
- Buses or any other vehicles owned / hired by the school need to be maintained properly so that students are not at risk of accidents. Drivers need to be appropriately trained on speed limits, stoppage of vehicles as well as crisis management so that children remain safe during their travel to and from schools.
- Emergency equipment such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, ropes etc. need to be procured and maintained regularly by the School Authorities
Fire Prevention and Fire Safety
Fire Prevention and Fire Safety measures should be part of initial school design, and also require regular maintenance and testing. The following must be ensured:
- Flammable and hazardous materials sources are limited, isolated, eliminated, or secured. This includes electrical lines and appliances, heaters and stoves, natural gas pipelines and LPG canisters, flammable or combustible liquids;
- Exit routes are clear to facilitate safe evacuation in case of fire or other emergency;
- Detection and alarm systems (especially urban set ups) are working;
- Fire extinguishers are regularly refilled;
- Other fire materials and equipment are regularly maintained;
- Electrical systems are maintained and operable, in compliance with fire safety design criteria
(Source: Adapted from IFC EHS Guidelines)
Source : National Disaster Management Guidelines - School Safety Policy
School building specifications
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, Justice Dalveer Singh in response in response to Writ Petition (Civil) No.483 of 2004, Avinash Mehrotra vs Union of India has laid down the following minimum specifications for school buildings.
- The school buildings shall preferably be `A’ Class construction with brick / stone masonry walls with RCC roofing. Where it is not possible to provide RCC roofing only non-combustible fireproof heat resistance materials should be used.
- The nursery and elementary schools should be housed in single storied buildings and the maximum number of floors in school buildings shall be restricted to three including the ground floor.
- The School building shall be free from inflammable and toxic materials, which if necessary, should be stored away from the school building.
- The staircases, which act as exits or escape routes, shall adhere to provisions specified in the National Building Code of India 2016 to ensure quick evacuation of children.
- The orientation of the buildings shall be in such a way that proper air circulation and lighting is available with open space all round the building as far as possible.
- Existing school buildings shall be provided with additional doors in the main entrances as well as the class rooms if required. The size of the main exit and classroom doors shall be enlarged if found inadequate.
- School buildings have to be insured against fire and natural calamities with Group Insurance of school pupils.
- Kitchen and other activities involving use of fire shall be carried out in a secure and safe location away from the main school building.
- All schools shall have water storage tanks.
Clearances and certificates
- Every School shall have a mandatory fire safety inspection by the Fire and Rescue Services Department followed by issuance of a `no objection certificate’ to the School as a mandatory requirement for granting permission for establishing or continuation of a School.
- An Inspection Team consisting of experts like a Civil Engineer, a Health Officer, a Revenue Officer, a Psychologist, a Fire Officer, a local body officer and a development officer besides the educational authorities shall carry inspection and assessment of infrastructural facilities before the commencement of each academic year. The Team shall submit its Inspection Report to the concerned district Chief Educational Officer.
- The building plans for schools shall be prepared only by a Government certified engineer and the PWD Executive Engineer concerned should inspect the building and award a structural stability certificate. Stability Certificates shall be issued by the State or Central Government Engineers only and shall be mandatory for granting permission for establishing or continuation of a School.
- In every district, one Recognition Committee headed by a retired judge shall be constituted. Officials from Revenue Department, Public Works Department, Fire Service, Electricity Board, Health and Education Department, a reputed NGO shall be members. They shall visit the schools periodically or at least the erring institutions as listed by the Chief Education Officer.
- Conditional recognition / approval shall never by resort to for any school.
Source : Training Module for Master Trainers on School Safety