Fire continues to be one of biggest risks facing UK businesses today. Research published earlier this year, found that fire and explosion accounted for six out of 10 of business interruptions claims globally, with an average loss of £1.7 million (Allianz – Global Claims Review 2015). Closer to home, Research by FM Global, which looked at claims data collected in the UK between 2008 and 2013, found that fire poses a greater combined frequency and severity threat to business than anything else. The research also found that fire was the most common form of property loss and disruption only after flooding.
Although fire sprinklers have proven to be an effective way of mitigating against this risk, these findings demonstrate that there is still much to be done to reduce the impact of fire on business interruption and to raise awareness of the benefits of sprinklers.
High-profile incidents such as Pure Wafer’s factory fire in Swansea and the destruction of Dowty Propellers production facility at Staverton last year show the very real impact on businesses up and down the country. Pure Wafer was forced to make 115 redundancies following the fire, whilst Dowty Propellers has only recently been given planning permission for its new site.
In contrast, an incident at BPI Films in Leominster earlier this year was avoided through activation of fire sprinklers, which allowed the company to open as normal the next day. Further afield, the huge fire that broke out in The Address skyscraper in Dubai was prevented from spreading into the interior by internal sprinkler systems.
The Business Sprinkler Alliance, or BSA, was established in 2010 to foster greater business resilience by enhancing protection against fire through the increased acceptance and use of fire sprinklers in commercial and industrial premises. As a coalition of fire safety professionals, we aim to create a culture of understanding and acceptance around the benefits of sprinklers. It is crucial that individuals and businesses who design, construct and approve new commercial properties understand the role that fire sprinklers play – not only in protecting employees but also as a long-term cost effective risk management method for businesses.
Fire sprinklers can help save lives. However, the examples above show that sprinklers can also reduce the impact of fire on businesses and local communities by minimising disruption and limiting building damage. Research commissioned by the BSA and conducted by BRE Global and Cebr on warehouse fires found that sprinklers minimise both the cost and impact of fire on the economy and local communities. Furthermore, sprinklers can support business continuity, save jobs and protect the environment.
Whilst sprinklers can be retrofitted into almost any kind of building (including listed or historic premises), sprinklers should be considered at the earliest opportunity in the design process and not in isolation or as part of the retrofitting process. The first phase of any building project will involve discussions between architects, designers and the property owners, who will brief them on the proposed use of the building and outline any specific requirements. Critically, the potential risk and the importance of the facility need to be assessed.
There is often a perception that sprinklers will be restrictive to the design process, when in fact, sprinklers can allow for a more inventive use of space. Current building codes work on a performance-based approach to the safety of a building. This means that by including sprinklers, designers will have greater freedom to deliver their vision. Sprinklers can allow a more interesting use of space giving rise to better and more creative designs, protecting future occupants from fire and by meeting the intent of building regulations.
There is no doubt that sprinklers are an effective means of ensuring business continuity and minimising the impact of a fire. However, we continue to trail our European counterparts when it comes to fire safety guidance. The UK guidance only applies to premises over 20,000m2. Countries such as Germany, Spain and France apply the regulations to much smaller building sizes, ensuring businesses have a more effective fire protection in place with sprinklers.
We need to work harder to help bring about a change in attitude. We need to shake off the view that sprinklers are restrictive and in fact will not only help architects maximise their own design process, but also protect buildings through their lifecycle.
For more information, go to www.sprinklersaves.uk