A common problem for many school districts is the accumulation of unused material, obsolete or non-functioning equipment, waste paper, and other debris. Proper storage of items kept in school inventory is important to keep students and staff safe and to help prevent property losses.
Excessive clutter in any building is a serious fire hazard. Storing a large amount of excess material will provide more sources for possible ignition. Further, a building with large amounts of stored combustible material will burn much more quickly than a building without such materials. As flames spread quickly, the heat generated can increase to the point where all materials ignite spontaneously. Such an intense conflagration would be a terror for anyone in the building. Additionally, a raging fire of this nature will result in severe property damage or possibly structural collapse.
Safety measures should be taken to reduce the potential hazards caused by the storage of excessive amounts of material. Initially, the removal of all obsolete equipment and unnecessary supplies from district buildings will reduce the risks discussed above. Consider what the District has stored and whether it is essential to keep. (When, for instance, will those old props from the school play or forgotten holiday decorations be used?) Set a general “cut-off” date for keeping items in storage. If, as an example, an item has not been used in a year or more, discard it or donate it. Implementing an annual or semi-annual “clean-out” program will help ensure that all school buildings remain free of unnecessary items.
Additionally, district administrators and principals should monitor the volume of outside items brought into classrooms. Our loss control professionals frequently report finding classrooms with large quantities of non-essential material brought in by staff members. While well intentioned, unchecked accumulation of outside property increases the risks of fire. Policies should be adopted to reduce the risk caused by the staff bringing in significant amounts of non-essential material.
In addition to the quantity, district administrators and principals should monitor the types of equipment staff brings into district buildings. Personal appliances such as toaster ovens, space heaters, refrigerators, and coffee makers not only increase electrical costs, but can be fire hazards. Since these personal appliances are brought in from home, they typically do not undergo a safety check to ensure they are up to standard and working properly. Old, outdated appliances are a common cause of electrical fires. Policies should be considered to prohibit staff bringing electrical appliances into the buildings.
For materials that the district needs to store, designate specific storage areas. Control access to the designated areas to authorized staff members. Keep the designated areas clean and store items in a neat, orderly fashion. Do not over-pack the storage areas. Make sure there is a clear and unobstructed path leading to all entrances and exits.
Additionally, use buildings for their intended purpose. The short-term solution of storing materials in any area with free space does not outweigh the possible risks that are created. Maintaining a clean facility free of clutter and the associated fire hazards is possible.
Finally, any materials that are stored should be away from heaters or any other surface that generates heat.
More information can be found in our loss control manual, which is available to all member districts at no cost. The manual contains safety checklists addressing 21 different hazards. If you have a need for personal assistance, your loss control representative stands ready to assist you.