Building regulation and fire safety

The Fire Safety Building Regulations and Fire Sprinklers in Industrial and Commercial Buildings

Approved Document “B” provides building design guidance to satisfy the requirements of the Fire Safety Building Regulations (FSBR). Concerning fire sprinklers and industrial and commercial buildings, its guidance is that:

  • Fire sprinklers be used in single storey warehouses larger than 20,000m2
  • Fire sprinklers are not needed in industrial buildings.

This FSBR guidance for industrial and commercial buildings is very lax when compared to sprinkler requirements for similar buildings in other European countries where, on average, sprinklers are required in industrial and commercial buildings 3,000m2 in size. This is because the remit of the FSBR is limited to only ensuring the safety of occupants in the event of a fire. From that perspective the FSBR are effective: there are very few deaths or injuries as a consequence of fires in industrial and commercial buildings in this country.

But, the FSBR make no consideration for the protection of property – i.e. a building’s ability to withstand a fire – and this is a primary reason why we record 11 fires every month in England that badly damage industrial and commercial buildings.

The damage and destruction of industrial and commercial buildings by fire is the cause of significant social, economic and environmental costs which are not recovered through insurance. These costs are ultimately borne by communities and the public purse as a consequence of lost workplaces and jobs, lost productivity, lost tax revenue, transport and community disruption and environmental damage.

Fires in industrial and commercial building

The number of industrial and commercial building fires is declining, but the cost of each fire is increasing: fire insurance claims and costs rose from £812 million in 2004 to £1,247 million in 2016 – with around 70% of that figure attributable to industrial and commercial building fires.  But, over the same period, the total number of fire claims has halved. The total cost of industrial and commercial buildings fires is higher still as these figures:

  • do not include £150 million of business interruption costs arising from fires in commercial premises
  • are provided by the Association of British Insurers, and a sizable proportion of commercial property is insured by companies which are not ABI members
  • do not include the cost of underinsured and uninsured buildings.

Some detail of the cost of warehouse fires was provided by the 2014 report by the Cebr[1] which found that:

  • the direct financial loss to business as a consequence of warehouse fires is £230.2 million/year
  • the wider economic impact within the economy (hampered supply chains, decreased demand, reduced household income due to employment) is £190 million and 996 job losses per annum.

Warehouse fire property damage claims represent only 15% of overall UK commercial losses. The remainder fall on other commercial facilities, predominantly manufacturing. The economic gross value added of the manufacturing sector is 8 times greater than the GVA of the warehousing sector and staffing densities are higher in the manufacturing sector. The financial and employment impacts to the economy of fire events within manufacturing buildings are therefore on a scale far larger than those calculated by the Cebr for warehousing.

The true cost of fire

More broadly, the Fire Sector Federation has calculated that the total economic cost of fire (anticipation, response and consequences) in all buildings is over £9 billion annually.

Failure of the current system

Under the FSBR with the remit limited to life safety, the outcome of a fire is a “success” if all occupants evacuate safely even if the building is badly damaged or destroyed. Under this system, buildings are disposable – this should not be considered as acceptable.

The review of the Fire Safety Building Regulations

The Government is currently reviewing the Fire Safety Building Regulations (FSBR) and the Approved Document “B” guidance. The policy review is primarily a consequence of the Grenfell Tower fire and so is expected to follow Dame Judith Hackitt’s Report recommendations and so focus its changes on higher risk residential buildings.

BSA view on the review of the Fire Safety Building Regulations – safe and resilient buildings

This review provides the opportunity to rectify the FSBR failings. Many of these were highlighted by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but the review should also be used as an opportunity to make the buildings of the future safer for occupants and firefighters and also resilient to fire.

The BSA and the fire sector generally believe that the most practical way to make buildings safer and resilient is to broaden the remit of the FSBR to consider property protection as well as life safety for all building types.

Benefits of broadening the FSBR remit to include property protection

Broadening the FSBR remit to include property protection will mean that buildings will be designed to be resilient to fire: buildings which are designed to be resilient to fire can continue to be used for their intended purpose the day after a fire – so if a fire starts in a home, a business, a school, a medical facility… it will be contained and extinguished with minimal interruption, disruption and cost.

Broadening the FSBR remit to include property protection will, therefore, enhance the safety of occupants and firefighters and will minimise the social, economic and environmental costs of fire.

Consequences of making provision for property protection in the Fire Safety Building Regulations

More buildings will in the future be designed to be resilient to disproportionate damage through the use of combinations of passive and active fire safety measures. Consequently, there will be fewer large, costly fires.

The BSA believes that fire sprinklers would be a major part of this change because of their proven efficacy, because they make the task of the Fire and Rescue Service much safer, easier and cheaper, and because they protect lives, property, businesses, jobs and the environment.

The FSBR would then ensure that future buildings are safe and sustainable with the effect that:

  • They will protect both people and the buildings in which they live, work, are educated or are cared for
  • Business buildings and businesses will be resilient to fire
  • The task of the Fire and Rescue Service will be safer, easier and cheaper
  • The cost of fire to the communities, economy and the national finances will be reduced
  • Environmental impacts of fire will be reduced – there will be less air pollution, fewer carbon emissions, less damage to buildings, and less need to rebuild and the FRS will use significantly less water to fight fires.

[1] The financial and economic impact of warehouse fires – Cebr – January 2014