Of the 673 new schools built and open under the government’s flagship school programme, only 105 were fitted with sprinklers. With hundreds of schools in the UK having a fire each year, this alarming statistic once again only emphasises that money spent on dealing with the aftermath of fires should be being spent on sprinklers.
The BSA shares the concerns of Labour MP and former teacher Stephanie Peacock who said: “The ridiculous thing is that we spend far more rebuilding and repairing schools after fires than we would have paid to install sprinklers in the first place.”
School fires have a devastating impact on both a school and a community. Measures such as sprinklers drastically reduce the amount of damage done when there is a fire, and enable schools to get up-and-running quickly, reducing the cost, both economically and socially, to the public.
On the 24th April, the Selsey Academy opened the doors to its rebuilt premises after a fire devastated the original, unsprinklered school in August 2016. In the interim, pupils were taught in temporary classrooms in four locations in the Selsey area and then temporary school portakabins until the new school was completed. Sadly, the trust that runs it has confirmed the new school has been rebuilt without sprinklers.
Commenting on the lack of sprinklers in schools, Iain Cox, Chairman of the BSA, said: “This is another case of value engineering, where the cost of installing sprinklers has been cut out without any idea of the potential impact. Surely, it is better to protect the asset, so you won’t have disruption and the lost opportunity?”
Ensuring the safety of a building’s occupants is considered the bare minimum under current regulations, but it is clearly not the optimal outcome. A sprinkler system would serve to protect both the occupants and the building, allowing students to return to normality far more rapidly and with considerably less disruption to teachers’ already hectic schedules.
Furthermore, the Association of British Insurers says the most expensive school fires typically cost around £2.8 million to address, and over the past four years an average 24 of these large-loss fires have occurred every year, totalling £67.2 million.
Currently, sprinklers are mandatory in new school buildings in Scotland and Wales, but not in England and Northern Ireland.
The government advises that even a single missed day of education can have significant effects on future exam results. The installation of sprinklers could limit the damage from fire; significantly reducing the potential disruption to the students’ school life.
The same misconceptions about cost and the impact of disruption can be seen across the commercial and industrial sector. The BSA is calling for better education on the substantial benefits that fire sprinklers can deliver to the business community and wider economy. Fire does not discriminate; whether it is a school, a car park a warehouse or an office, fires happen on a regular basis. However, they can be contained and extinguished by systems such as sprinklers to ensure that life is not put at risk and businesses, jobs and the economy are protected.