The true cost of building fires

Building fires occur at an alarmingly high frequency and have an impact that goes way beyond that of the owners and its immediate occupiers. The fire safety guidance of the Building Regulations (provided by Approved Document B – ADB) is based on a consideration of life safety impacts. However, the true impact of a fire is much more than life safety as a fire has economic, social and environmental implications. So why is property protection not given greater consideration?

In the last month or so we have seen fires at Weybridge Community Hospital, Smoby Toys in Bradford and Camden Market and none more devastating that Grenfell Tower. The buildings are a mix of 70’s high rise residential, industrial warehousing, modern health and a historic market. Whilst they appear to have little in common they do share a number of similarities in that none of them had sprinkler systems and all of them have implications that will affect many, many people.

Grenfell Tower has rightly occupied the headlines due to tragic loss of life and its repercussions continue to make headlines. Whilst there is general consensus that regulations need to be urgently reviewed there are a number of other issues that need to be addressed. The issue of rehousing the survivors of Grenfell Tower highlighted the issue of continuity. Trying to find homes for the families has been an extremely difficult task. It is similar for the retailers at Camden Market, North Surrey Clinical Commissioning Group and Smoby Toys. They all have businesses to run that have now been left with no premises.

This loss of premises is not just a construction issue it is also an economic issue. To put it into perspective, Home Office figures have shown that in the last three years, there have been 22,800 fires in industrial and commercial premises. If you take into account research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), which states fires in warehouses (which account for 15% of industrial and commercial building stock) result in a direct financial loss to business of £230 million per year a bigger picture starts to emerge.

These warehouse fires create a loss of £190 million per year in GDP through lost productivity and supply chain impacts. They also lose the treasury £32 million in tax receipts and are the responsible for 1,000 job losses. And remember this is just warehouse fires. Imagine what the figure is when we consider fires in industrial buildings, health, leisure and workplaces.

One solution to address the issue of property protection is the incorporation of automatic sprinkler systems. Having sprinklers fitted protects businesses in the long run. They safeguard against potentially disastrous losses and also aid with life safety. By preventing large fires, sprinklers also protect the environment by avoiding CO2 emissions, reducing excess water use by the fire brigade and eliminating water supply contamination. Above all, they maintain business continuity. In the event of a fire, many businesses with sprinkler systems find they are back up and running in a matter of hours.

We are still feeling the knock on effects of the recent spate of fires in the UK. Hopefully with a review of ADB and an extension of the locus to include more of a focus on property protection and due consideration towards sprinklers, we can start to reduce this and provide businesses with the protection they need and deserve.

For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org

By Iain Cox, Chairman of the BSA

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