National government

The British economy has lost £1 billion in GDP and 5000 full-time jobs through preventable fires in commercial warehouses over the last five years.

Sprinkler systems ensure the most effective fire protection for British property and businesses.  They provide automatic detection, alarm and fire fighting capability at all hours of the day and night, 365 days of the year.

A 2013 Cebr[1] study looked at the financial and economic impacts of fires in warehouses without sprinkler systems in England and Wales and found that they:

  • Cause a direct financial loss to business of £230m per year, causing a loss to the national economy of £190m per year in productivity and impacts to the supply chain
  • Cause approximately 1,000 direct and indirect jobs losses annually through disruption and business failure
  • Cause the Treasury to lose £32 million in tax receipts per year – equivalent to the wage cost of 1,320 nurses
  • Cause 135,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere annually – equivalent to the emissions resulting from the annual domestic electricity consumption by a city the size of Portsmouth; and found that the cost of these emissions and of the water used in fire-fighting is £11 million per year
  • Cause knock-on effects with an average of 21 local businesses impacted by road closures and air and water contamination per fire

These costs and impacts are all avoidable because sprinklers suppress, control and even extinguish fires before the fire service arrives. Businesses, communities, the environment and national and local finances will benefit from fewer large fires in business premises.

A culture change is urgently required for people to better understand the benefits of sprinkler protection. Westminster and the devolved Governments can help by:

  • promoting the benefits of installing sprinklers to the business community
  • exempting sprinklers from the classification of Plant and Machinery for Business Rates which would remove an existing, perverse disincentive to install sprinklers
  • reviewing their fire safety Building Regulations to bring the policies on sprinklers into line with competitor economies. The current guidance in England and Wales on sprinkler systems only applies to warehouses larger than 20,000m2; in Scotland, the guidance applies to warehouses larger than 14,000 m2; and there is no guidance at all in Northern Ireland nor for manufacturing premises in any of the administrations. Across Europe and competitor economies including the US the regulations apply to much smaller building sizes, which mean they are all far better prepared and more readily able to recover from fires that threaten their businesses.

[1] The Centre of Economics and Business Research (Cebr) is an independent research and analysis centre