The UK government has been urged to make sprinklers mandatory in care homes and schools by one of the British insurance industry’s most senior figures.
Speaking at the Worshipful Company of Firefighters Fire Lecture in central London, James Dalton, Director of general insurance at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said he feared that only tragedy would prompt a change in the law.
Dalton’s comments, which also referenced the huge annual cost of fires in sprinkler-free warehouses, came just a week before a fire broke out in a Cafe Nero coffee factory in South London. It was unclear if the warehouse had sprinklers installed. The blaze, which caused chaos for many hours on main train routes running into central London through nearby Clapham Junction, was tackled by eight fire pumps and other specialized units and about 100 firefighters.
On the care home issue he said: “It is scandalous that there is no regulatory requirement for the use of sprinklers in newly-built buildings that house the most vulnerable in our society – those in care homes and schools. The building regulations and British Standards offer guidance and encourage the use of fire-protection measures – but that is simply not good enough. In Scotland and Wales, the occupants of new and refurbished care homes must be protected by fire suppression systems – why not in England as well?”
He also suggested that “responsible care home owners install sprinklers on a voluntary basis to protect their residents” and that loved ones of vulnerable residents should consider fire safety measures as well as the quality of accommodation and food when comparing potential dwellings.
Dalton cited two recent examples where sprinklers have more than justified their installation. One was a kitchen fire, which sprinklers had extinguished before firefighters arrived. The other, a blaze caused by a lit cigarette, was well contained by the time fire crews arrived. The sad reality in the case of both care homes and schools is that it will take a tragic loss of life before action is taken”, warned Dalton. “But the real tragedy is that this loss of life is as inevitable as it is predictable.”
Approved Document B – which outlines the building regulations currently in force – only “recommends” that sprinklers are installed in warehouses larger than 20,000 square metres. Approved Document B is overdue a review, “especially in light of demands of modern building owners,” said Dalton.
Dalton also suggested that while the increasingly frequent and severe flooding that afflicts communities around the UK is devastating, fire still eclipses it, if not in column inches then in insurance costs and loss of life.