Iain Cox

Chair, Business Sprinkler Alliance

Author Bio ▼

After 34 years in the Fire and Rescue Service in Royal Berkshire FRS Iain Cox became Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, the National Fire Sprinkler Network and the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council. He is also a Director at the BAFE as well as working within the Fire Sector Federation to improve the understanding of, and compliance with, Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations requiring the provision of appropriate Fire Risk Information.
March 5, 2015

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The Threshold for Installing Fire Sprinklers in UK Warehouses is too High

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When: 16-18 June 2015
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Fires have a devastating effect on businesses. Research commissioned by the Business Sprinkler Alliance has shown that there are, on average, 621 fires in warehouses each year.

These fires have economic, social and environmental costs for the country as well as UK businesses.

Published guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) recommends that warehouses in England and Wales should be provided with a fire sprinkler system or equivalent fire prevention mechanism if they are larger than 20,000m2.

By comparison, in the majority of EU countries fire sprinklers must be installed in commercial and industrial properties with an average floor space one tenth of that size – for example 1,800m2 in Austria, 5,000m2 in Belgium, 2,000m2-5,000m2 (dependent upon fire load) in Denmark, 3,000m2 in France, 2,000m2 in Spain, 1,800m2 in Germany, 1,000m2 in the Netherlands and 800m2 in Norway.

The reality is that across Europe and in competitor economies current regulation and guidance levels mean that these markets are far better prepared and able to recover from fires that threaten their businesses and their economies. In short, businesses in these countries are regulated in a way that encourages physical resilience.

UK businesses must abandon the commonly-held belief that fires will not happen in their premises, while the government needs to reconsider the current UK warehouse size regulations for fire sprinkler installation.

Compelling case

Recent research by BRE Global and the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that over the lifetime of a warehouse larger than 2,000m2 – around half a football pitch in size – the whole life costs were on average 3.7 times lower in warehouses with fire sprinklers installed.

If all warehouses above 2,000m2 were fitted with fire sprinklers the annual saving to businesses in England could be up to £210m – providing a compelling case for the installation of fire sprinklers in warehouses.

Such action would also enhance productivity by £190m and save up to five thousand jobs needlessly lost each year because of fires in warehouses.

Yet still only 67% of warehouses large than 10,000m2 and 20% of warehouse between 2,000 and 10,000m2 in England and Wales are protected from fire with sprinklers.

This situation is a consequence of a number of factors – notably a lack of understanding of the benefits of sprinklers among those that design and build commercial buildings and those that occupy them.

This is compounded by a complex design and build process involving numerous parties. This can often result in alternative fire protection solutions which protect lives in the event of a fire, but do not effectively protect the property and its contents.

These facts lead us to conclude that regulatory change would benefit both businesses and the national finances.

The fire safety provisions of the building regulations are due to be reviewed this year.

We therefore hope that the Government and its advisers will review this new research alongside the broader considerations when taking its decision.

Ultimately though, UK Plc needs to promote a better understanding of the importance of fire resilience in business. Better understanding of this critical component of commercial success will create a cultural change and in the future we hope people do not ask why they should install sprinklers, but instead embrace it as a new and beneficial norm.

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2 Comments on "The Threshold for Installing Fire Sprinklers in UK Warehouses is too High"

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Dean Middleton

Sprinklers can damage stock. Better to have early detection such as Aspirating fire detection  Also there is the system such as Oxyreduct, which means no fire occurs and doesn’t damage stock…!!

Dean Middleton’s comment is typical of the warped thinking preventing sensible selection of fire protection measures. Fire can completely damage stock wheras with most fires in large sprinklered warehouses, stock loss is minimal. You can fit the fanciest detection systems available but they won’t extinguish a fire! If it is a typical high bay warehouse with rack storage of combustible products, action by staff is likely to be ineffective and potentially dangerous. The time from a detection system operating to the local Fire and Rescue Service attending and starting fire fighting is likely to be around five minutes, which would allow… Read more »