’Disposable vapes can pose a serious fire risk as they contain lithium-ion batteries that can ignite if damaged,’ says insurer’s regional major loss manager

Insurer Zurich Municipal has teamed up with the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Assocation (Bafsa) to issue a new warning around the dangers of vape use at schools.

The two organisations have previously raised concerns about the increased threat of fire to schools during the summer term – a time when pupils and staff are under most stress.

However, the latest statement warned that fire risks in school premises are rising due to the increased use of vapes by pupils. 

A recent Action on Smoking and Health survey (ASH) shows that around 15% of children aged 11 to 15 years old, and more than a third of 16 to 17 year olds, have vaped.

Paul Redington, regional major loss manager for Zurich Municipal, said: “For several years, Zurich has called on the government to bring English schools into line with the rest of Britain but, so far, we have yet to see any movement.

“Disposable vapes can pose a serious fire risk as they contain lithium-ion batteries that can ignite if damaged, or if they are not disposed of correctly. While schools ban vaping in or around school premises, young people may still carry them.”

A recent Zurich freedom of information request to Fire and Rescue services and local councils showed that there were around 300 fires in primary and secondary schools last year.

Redington added: “While this may seem like a small number, one fire is one too many when you consider how many people – both teachers and young people – could be put in harm’s way. Fires can also be financially crippling for schools or local authorities that have smaller and smaller budgets.”

“In fact, schools in England are almost twice as likely to suffer from a fire than other types of non-residential buildings.”

Mitigation efforts

According to the government’s own data, less than 8.5% of new schools built since 2015 have automatic fire sprinklers fitted despite nearly 300 fires in schools occurring across England in 2023.

Schools fitted with sprinklers that experience a fire are often back in action the same day however, as opposed to the two years that it typically takes to rebuild a school after a major fire.

Zurich and Bafsa said that the use of sprinklers dramatically reduced the effect a fire can have on a school, often limiting damage to one room.

Sprinkler systems can also prevent the loss of valuable student coursework and school children having their studies disrupted due to their classrooms being destroyed or severely damaged.

Bafsa chief executive Ali Perry added that putting sprinklers in schools makes economic sense.

He said: “The impact of school fires is much greater than the financial cost of any rebuild, but there is the emotional cost too. Schools work hard to establish a positive culture and build relationships which are shattered when pupils and staff are displaced due to fire.”