x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Sharjah warns 78 schools of fire safety deficiencies

Almost 80 schools have been told they face hefty fines and possible closure if they fail to rectify fire-safety breaches uncovered by inspectors.

SHARJAH // Almost 80 schools have been told they face hefty fines and possible closure if they fail to rectify fire-safety breaches uncovered by inspectors. An inspection committee administered by Sharjah Civil Defence and the municipality found violations including non-insulated electrical wires and unsafe paper storage facilities in 78 private and government schools.

Hareeb al Tunaiji, the head of the committee, said the schools had been given until the end of the academic year to correct the violations. He did not reveal the names of the schools which have been warned or the amount of the fines they might face. "Our inspectors look out for all kinds of violations and notify the school authorities to stop them," he said. "Schools are so sensitive, so we are against all kinds of violations there."

Overcrowded classrooms and school transport vehicles, unmarked emergency exits and an absence of fire extinguishers were among the hazards discovered by the spot inspections. The use of makeshift wooden classrooms and wooden staircases was also noted in several schools, according to Mr al Tunaiji. In some cases, workers employed in the schools as carpenters were sleeping in classrooms. He warned that schools which did not manage to bring their fire-safety standards into line with official guidelines could be closed.

He said that a group of 15 inspectors visited schools from the start of February, when students were on their holiday, and would ask the school headmaster and staff to take them on a tour of the facility to see the state of the school and any violations. Once infractions had been found at the school, a notice detailing the violations would be given to the head of the school with instructions to fix them by the end of this academic year.

Almost 40,000 students returned to the emirate's schools earlier this week as the final term of the academic year got under way, according to the Sharjah Education Zone. Mr al Tunaiji said a number of fire-safety awareness campaigns would be conducted in schools by staff from the education zone and civil defence. School guards were being trained to fight fires and rescue students in case of an emergency.

Col Waheed al Serkal, the director general of Sharjah Civil Defence, said that with summer approaching, it was important for schools to ensure all fire safety procedures are in place. The UAE tends to suffer more fires in the summer as temperatures rise. ykakande@thenational.ae