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Is the government playing with fire risk?

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ABI, make fire-sprinklers in schools compulsory, building regulations, riskThere are the equivalent of four fires a day in schools and other educational establishments every year.

Proposed changes to guidance governing how schools are built would alarmingly undermine efforts to reduce the risk of fire, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has warned.

The redrafting of a document known as BB100 replaces a government commitment, “that it is now our expectation that all new schools will have sprinklers fitted” with a sentence stating the opposite: “The Building Regulations do not require the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety and therefore BB 100 no longer includes an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them.”

There are more than 1,500 fires in schools and other educational establishments every year – equivalent to four a day – and the biggest of these has typically cost around £2.8 million in recent years.

Aside from the financial impact, these fires disrupt the education of an estimated 90,000 children and students annually.

The ABI speaks on behalf UK insurers, provides consumers with general information on insurance and savings products and services, and promotes best practice, transparency and high standards within the industry.

And the ABI is urging the government not to water down fire prevention measures but to ensure sprinkler systems are fitted as mandatory in all new schools and any under-going major refurbishment.

Laura Hughes, Property Policy Adviser at the ABI, said: “A decade ago the government made it clear sprinklers should be expected in all new school buildings.

“Despite that, only an estimated 30 per cent of new schools built since then have had them included.

“Sprinklers should be a compulsory part of all new educational buildings, but instead the government is moving in the opposite direction.

“The case for sprinklers is clear,” she continued.

“Aside from their ability to save lives, they drastically reduce the amount of damage done when there is a fire, saving money and getting that school back up and running more quickly.

“The cost of installing a sprinkler system can be recouped in less than ten years thanks to the savings which will be made insuring the school.

“It’s a win-win situation for schools and all children should be benefitting from this additional safety measure.”

The cost of a sprinkler system is generally between 1 and 2 per cent of the total construction bill.

The estimated cost for a medium-sized primary school, for example, is just over £100,000.

The ABI is urging the government to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London with new legislation for making sprinklers compulsory in all new schools, care homes and warehouses over 2,000m2.

The ABI has already submitted a response to DfE’s consultation on Building Bulletin 100 – Fire Safety Design for schools. To read the response click here.

And more than a dozen organisations have so far confirmed their support for proposals put forward by the ABI to ensure sprinklers are installed in more high-risk buildings.

Several major fire brigades as well as the Chief Fire Officers Association and a number of fire prevention bodies have all added their names to a call for action on sprinkler regulations to help prevent major and potentially deadly fires.

The ABI issued the following call to the government:

“As the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Great Fire of London approaches we urge the Government to modernise fire prevention rules by legislating for compulsory sprinklers in all new schools and care homes, and warehouses over 2,000m2.

“Fires put lives at risk, cause disruption to our cities and transport networks and hurt the economy; failing to install sprinklers in schools and care homes is putting at risk the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.”

The signatories to date are: East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service; Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service; London Fire Brigade; West Midlands Fire Service; Arson Prevention Forum (APF); British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA); British Damage Management Association (BDMA); Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA); Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters (CILA); Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA); Fire Protection Association (FPA); Fire Sector Federation (FSF); National Fire Sprinkler Network (NFSN); and the Worshipful Company of Firefighters.

Mark Shepherd, ABI’s Manager of General Insurance Policy, said: “Fires in schools and care homes endanger those who most need our protection.

“Industrial fires can cause disruption to our homes, high streets and transport networks and also put lives at risk.

“We know sprinklers are particularly effective at reducing the risks posed by fire so the time has come to start requiring them in certain buildings.

“We urge the government to take the sensible step of making sprinklers a compulsory part of new schools, care homes and larger warehouses, to help the on-going fight against fire.”

Please contact your MP and draw this issue to their attention.

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