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Making the case for sprinklers in warehouses

07 March 2014

The present Building Regulations require that new warehouses in England & Wales over 20,000 square metres in size should be fitted with sprinklers, but the Business Sprinkler Alliance (a coalition of the fire and rescue service, insurers and other groups) has recently launched a campaign to promote the wider and more effective use of sprinklers in warehouses with a view to promoting a rethink on the present size of unsprinklered warehouses.

In many European Union countries, such as Germany, that figure is 2,000 square metres, and in Scotland it is 14,000 square metres. In Holland, it is 1,000 square metres which the fire service there says is the maximum area which a fire crew can protect.

The BSA works to ensure that key stakeholders who either plan, design, construct or inhabit industrial or commercial premises understand better the benefits of fire sprinkler installation and the potential severity of the risks that can be caused by failure to install and maintain.

To support our own strong belief in the business benefits of fire sprinklers, we have recently published two reports on sprinkler installation in single storey warehouses with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) and BRE Global Ltd. 

The findings were eye-opening. In recent years there have been on average 600 fires in warehouses each year and the Cebr found that the British economy has lost £1 billion in GDP and 5,000 full-time jobs through preventable fires in commercial warehouses over the last five years. 

The report from BRE looked at the whole-life cost benefit analysis for fire sprinkler installation in three ranges of warehouse size. It showed that sprinklers are, on average, a cost effective investment for warehouses with a floor area above 2,000 m2, with the greatest benefit arising from the reduction in direct fire losses. However, current guidance on fire sprinklers in warehouses in the UK only applies to warehouses over 20,000m2 and is some of the least rigorous in Europe. By contrast, in Germany for example, fire sprinkler installation is mandatory in single storey warehouses of 1,800m2, and in Norway it is even lower – just 800m2. 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. In short, the businesses in these countries are regulated in a way that encourages physical resilience.

Ultimately, the BSA would like to see regulations changed for a number of reasons. For instance, Approved Document ‘B’ (ADB) of the Building Regulations (provided by the Building Act 1984) is immensely detailed and complex to navigate and implement. A more user-friendly document with guidance on fire sprinkler installation brought in line with competitor economies should be something that is welcomed by architects and planners alike. 

However, the ultimate measure of success for the BSA is a universal understanding and appreciation of the benefits that sprinklers offer UK businesses. This will allow a business-led increase in sprinkler uptake so that a future change in current UK building regulations complements the trend for the greater level of protection against the potentially devastating impacts of fire. To this end we are working with industry partners to ensure that companies are increasingly aware of the critical role fire sprinklers have to play in physical resilience.

For further information about the reports and the BSA, please visit: http://www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org/category/reports/