This informal CPD article, ‘A Building Destroyed By Fire Is Not A Regulatory Success,’ was provided by Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), established in 2010 as an alliance of fire safety professionals working to protect UK plc against fire.
At a time when businesses need to be more sustainable, it may come as a surprise that over seven out of 10 (72%) businesses are unaware that building regulations in the UK do not adequately protect against the devastating risk of fire.1 These current regulations are ‘life safety’ based and not specifically designed to achieve resilience to fire. We must therefore question as to why a building that is built to meet regulations can burn down and be counted as a regulatory success?
The impact and devastation caused by fire continues to remind us how vulnerable so many buildings are, with far-reaching consequences. In May last year, we witnessed over 100 firefighters tackle a large night-time blaze at a laundry business in London. The fire and rescue service prevented the fire from spreading to other buildings, but sadly the laundry business was devastated by the fire. It followed similar fires in Dewsbury which destroyed a bed manufacturer and a fire in Carrickfergus which devastated an upholstery business.
In contrast, a fire at another upholstery business, Love2Sleep in Manchester, had a very different outcome, with an automatic sprinkler system activating and extinguishing the fire prior to the arrival of the Fire and Rescue Service. The business was up and running that same day.
Current regulatory guidance
Under current building regulation guidance, the businesses that suffered the devastating fires were below any guidance threshold for sprinklers. Yet so was the one that was saved by the sprinklers. The impact on the devastated businesses and their employees and communities in which they operate will be significant.
It is clear from a life safety perspective there are fewer deaths or injuries from fires in industrial and commercial buildings than residential properties in this country. Whether that is a direct consequence of the FSBR alone is debatable. What is clear is that the outcome of the fire is a ‘success’ if all occupants evacuate safely even if the building is badly damaged or destroyed.
But the FSBR makes no consideration of the scale of the fire or the protection of property – i.e. a building’s ability to withstand a fire. There are on average 490 fires per month in England that damage industrial and commercial buildings.
The problem in focusing on the ease of exit alone and changing how we construct them has made them in effect more vulnerable to fire. The building will survive for the period it takes to get people out, after which we transition into a period where the inherent stability and resilience diminishes. There is a twisted logic that says the building is disposable in a large fire event.
In light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the industry is talking about raising the bar in terms of standards and competence to meet current needs in terms of fire safety. Perhaps we should be raising the bar to ask what is the outcome we wish to see? The only way to do this is to think hard about the outcome we see in fire. If we do not try and change the outcome, regulatory success will continue to look like the examples that we have seen.
We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.
- YouGov: BSA Perception Measurement, October 2022