New research leads to calls for review of rules for warehouse sprinklers

The British economy has lost £1 billion in GDP and 5,000 full-time jobs through preventable fires in commercial warehouses over the last five years.

The cost is equivalent to the annual productivity of the UK’s soft drinks industry and is revealed in a ground-breaking study released today by MPs, chief fire officers and industry bodies.

The research was commissioned by the Business Sprinkler Alliance (‘BSA’) and independently conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (‘Cebr’).

Cebr looked at the financial and economic impacts of blazes in warehouses without sprinkler systems in England and Wales and found:

The fires cause a direct financial loss to business of £230m per year.

A loss of £190m per year in productivity and impacts to the supply chain.

Approximately 1,000 direct and indirect jobs were lost annually through disruption and business failure.

The Treasury lost £160m in tax receipts over five years – equivalent to the budget cuts facing the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over the next two years.

135,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere annually; equivalent to the emissions resulting from the annual domestic electricity consumption by a city the size of Portsmouth.

Carbon dioxide emissions and water used in fire-fighting valued at £11 million per year.

Knock-on effects of each fire include an average of 21 local businesses impacted by road closures and air and water contamination.

Today, Cebr and the BSA are calling for better education on the substantial benefits that fire sprinklers can deliver to the business community and wider economy. The two organisations are also calling for government to review existing building standards to bring policy on fire sprinklers in warehouses in line with competitor economies.

The research is endorsed by Jim Fitzpatrick MP, former fire fighter and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fire Safety and Rescue. It will be launched in the House of Commons today alongside a new study from former government establishment BRE Global, on the cost-effectiveness of installing fire sprinklers in warehouses.

Cebr founder and Chairman, Professor Douglas McWilliams, said: “One in five warehouses in England and Wales will have a fire requiring the attendance of fire fighters. These fires are hurting our economy and could endanger our recovery. The money going up in smoke could be put to good use elsewhere.”

Iain Cox, BSA Chairman and former Chief Fire Officer of Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The findings of this study scratch the surface in terms of the cost of fire to the wider business community in England and Wales.

“What is clear from the current research is that insurance alone is not enough to fully protect companies from the long-term impacts of fire. We urge the government to do more to encourage the installation of fire sprinklers in commercial premises and promote a better understanding of the positive impacts of physical resilience.”

Mr Fitzpatrick added, “Fires are very real and many losses are wholly avoidable. The new findings launched today make a compelling argument for the installation of fire sprinklers in warehouses across UK building stock.

“The current guidance on fire sprinklers in warehouses in the UK only applies to warehouses over 20,000m2. Across Europe and competitor economies the regulations apply to much smaller sizes which mean they are far better prepared and able to recover from fires that threaten their businesses. The UK government has the power to correct this.”

Paul Fuller, President of the Chief Fire Officers Association, said: “Businesses need to consider how they protect their properties to make them more resilient to fires.

“Installing fire sprinklers brings peace of mind for businesses and they can reap all the benefits that come with them. Sprinklers do much more for the UK than people know.”

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