By Tom Roche, Secretary of the Business Sprinkler Alliance
News of the decision to review the Building Regulations fire safety guidance Approved Document B (ADB) is welcomed by the BSA. With the last review in 2007, much has changed in the construction industry particularly in terms of materials and techniques and how buildings are used – each impacting on fire risk of the built environment.
In its current state, ADB does not ensure sufficient resilience in the case of fire in properties. Home Office figures show that the Fire and Rescue service in England has attended 26,800 fires in industrial and commercial buildings in the past three years.
High-profile fires like those this year in the Primark building in Belfast, the Glasgow School of Art and Nottingham railway station mask the fact that fires destroy buildings and businesses up and down the country on a regular basis. Each impact most harshly on the local community – because large destructive fires often stop the economic and/or social activity of the building concerned. Insurance covers some of the costs of fire but never all of the costs, and notably not the cost to the public purse such as lost local productivity, lost tax revenues, lost jobs nor the social costs which are felt most at local level.
Therefore, it is no wonder that many in the fire sector are welcoming the recognition provided by the consultation paper that property protection could be a consideration of the ADB guidance. The current system is the cause of too many buildings being destroyed by fire, leading to huge social and economic costs as homes, business and schools are destroyed needlessly.
This is because the current guidance is designed to ensure life safety, which is always paramount. However, the system fails in the respect that if occupants or employees evacuate safely in the event of a fire, the outcome is a “success” even if the building is badly damaged or destroyed.
With this in mind, the BSA firmly advocates that property protection must be a consideration and importantly, it must apply proportionately to all building types, particularly as fires in industrial and commercial buildings (ICBs) are the cause of the greatest economic costs to the general economy.
Compounding this situation is the fact that, according to YouGov research, 69% of businesses mistakenly believe that following the current Building Regulations fire safety guidance means their business is effectively protected against fire. Making property protection a consideration of the guidance will allow buildings of the future to be both safe and sustainable and so reduce the true cost of fire.
The BSA also welcomes the recognition noted in the consultation paper that building types or purpose groups used in the guidance need to be reviewed. This is particularly pertinent to ICBs where design and use-patterns have changed significantly over the past decade. Just-in-time manufacturing processes and the internet economy mean that traditional definitions do not always fit the new buildings that are developed. These changing working conditions impact the expected fire load, accessibility and mobility each of which is a huge risk consideration in the event of a fire. There is therefore a need to rethink the distinction in the guidance between “storage” and “industrial” buildings, and with these increasing levels of risk, ICBs should be treated with the same value as other properties.
A further concern is that the changing nature of ICBs compounds firefighter safety: search and rescue can be more time-consuming and dangerous in these larger and more complex ICBs and the fires larger and more difficult to fight. Moreover, the FRS crews rarely know the nature of the contents and hazard risk of an ICB before they arrive further compounding the challenge of successfully fighting a fire safely. The BSA therefore welcomes the suggestion in the consultation paper to consider the physiological effects of fire-fighting on fire fighters and expects calls for change to minimise their risk exposure as much as possible.
Given these facts, the BSA unquestionably welcomes the suggestion in the consultation document to consider the wider deployment of sprinklers. Fire services have expressed the necessity of sprinklers in more buildings as they make their job safer, easier and cost-effective. The nation will benefit if more are fitted because sprinklers save lives, save businesses, save jobs and protect the environment.
The evidence shows that sprinkler systems have an operational reliability of 94% and that in those cases they extinguish or contain the fire on 99% of occasions across a wide range of building types.
Providing better protection for all types of buildings will minimise costs to the affected businesses and the general economy. It is in the nation’s interest to thoroughly review fire safety legislation, which is why the BSA encourages a forward looking technical review which will make buildings safe and sustainable.
For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org
 Home Office Fire Statistics – Other Buildings Fire Dataset
 Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom: An Analysis from Fire Service Data – Optimal Electronics May 2017