College in breach of its own rules on fire safety

An ironic twist saw a campus resident Fire Safety talk become a fire safety hazard when too many students arrived at the lecture.

An ironic twist saw a campus resident Fire Safety talk become a fire safety hazard when too many students arrived at the lecture.

Each year all student residents on campus accomodation have to attend a compulsory fire safety lecture. Students who do not attend are faced with a €100 fine. This year however, one lecture hall was overcrowded by almost 50 students. The large group of extra students resulted in people standing in the stairs, walkways and most importantly, in front of emergency exits.

Campus residents are divided into three groups for fire safety talks. The postgraduate, international and EU students attended a talk on the Monday night while the Scholars were due to attend on the Wednesday. The overcrowded lecture was commended to “all other students” in an email from the Accommodation Office. It took place on Tuesday 14th October in the Thomas Davis Theatre in the Arts Building.

According to the website of the Registrar of Chambers, who allocates rooms on campus, 265 places are set aside for Senior Sophister students in addition to 85 rooms for those who qualifiied through various schemes for involvement in Societies or Sports Clubs. This adds up to a total of 350 students who could be expected to attend the fire safety talk on the Monday evening. However, the Thomas Davis lecture theatre where the talk was held only holds 200 people.
According to the Accomodation Officer, Mr Anthony Dempsey, the overcrowding occurred because people who were meant to attend a lecture earlier in the week attended a different one instead. However he stated that “Prior to commencing the meeting, the emergency exits from the theatre were pointed out.” One student who attended this lecture was Jonathan Wyse, a Junior Sophister Economics and Maths student who said “It was only by being educated about Fire Safety at the lecture that I realised the conditions were so unsafe.”

The College safety website outlines Trinity’s obligation to ensure there are appropriate fire safety regulations in place. It states, “The General Application Regulations 2007 implement the relevant fire safety and emergency provisions of the 1989 Workplace Directive. The HSA intend to challenge employers, managers and directors (under the SHWW Act 2005) to demonstrate active safety management.”

The safety lecture the following evening was addressed to Scholars and described to fellow residents as a talk “to be attended by Scholars only”. Students attending had no problem with overfilling. One Scholar told Trinity News “at least the Scholars were safe.”

The College Safety Officer, Mr Tom Merriman, told Trinity News that the main problems associated with overfilling a lecture theatre are that the “exit capacity might be exceeded” or that “persons on the aisles might not react quickly enough and the aisles/escape routes might be obstructed resulting in delayed evacuation or persons being trampled on.”
He noted that the lecture hall was indeed filled beyond capacity, but that “The College Fire/Safety Officer, The Facilities Officer, the Accommodation Officer, an assistant Junior Dean and a number of other staff from the Accommodation Office were present and in control of the situation. These are trained experienced persons well accustomed to handling large crowds and dealing with emergencies.”

He continued to state that “on the basis of a dynamic risk assessment it was decided that, in these circumstances, the benefit to those present outweighed the small risk posed by the additional numbers in the theatre. Instructions were given at the beginning of the meeting to inform those on the aisles as to what to do in the event of an emergency. The situation was continually assessed by the Fire/Safety Officer.” He added, however, that “in general, such additional occupancy of a lecture theatre would not be permitted or acceptable without the additional controls that were in place on that evening”. Anecdotal evidence from Student Societies on campus would suggest that College does indeed take a strict line on fire safety. Any overfilling of rooms is banned.