New fire sprinkler law for Wales
Ian Gough, senior technical advisor at BAFSA gives an overview of the upcoming changes to UK fire safety law…
A major change to UK fire safety law comes into effect in April this year (2014) when automatic fire sprinkler systems are to be made compulsory in all new and converted residential properties in Wales.
The Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011 was finally approved by the Welsh assembly in October 2013 when the Minister for Housing, Carl Sargeant, signed the regulations into law and a Commencement Order1 was issued.
In Wales alone, data from the previous 10 years had shown that on average 17 deaths and 503 injuries per year were caused by fires in residential properties; and, while there had been a reduction in the number of deaths from fires in the home during this period, the Welsh Government believed that the number was still too high.
Consequently, as from 30th April 2014 all new and converted residential care homes, certain hostels, B&Bs and student accommodation will be required to include in their design fire sprinklers before approval can be given by building control authorities. A second tranche of legislation requires all new and converted residential property, including houses and flats, to be protected by sprinkler systems as from 1st January 2016. The new rules will not, however, apply to hospitals or hotels.
The legislation is intended to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from fire, improve the safety afforded to fire-fighters and contribute to the sustainability of new developments.
Legislative Competence Order
Under the 2006 Government of Wales Act, the Welsh assembly can create its own legislation and subsequently Vale of Clwyd Assembly Member (AM), Ann Jones, won an assembly ballot to be the first individual AM to introduce a Legislative Competence Order (LCO).
Ann, having worked in the fire service for almost 30 years, put forward the LCO to make it compulsory for automatic fire sprinklers to be fitted into all new homes in Wales. She said that the experience of her work in the fire service had made her aware of the devastating impact of fires – not just on the victims of fires and their families – but also on those responding to incidents that have caused death and injury to people in their own homes.
The Vale of Clwyd AM’s proposal, which was originally passed with cross party support in 2011, has been described as historic by Chief Fire Officers across Wales and has attracted the support of organisations such as the Fire Brigades Union and Chief Fire Officers Association.
Cost Benefit Analysis
Understandably, the issue of financial cost has been a major concern and questions have arisen regarding proportionality – especially from social housing providers and builders. For this reason therefore, and as part of the regulatory process, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) was tasked with analysing the losses caused by fires in residential buildings in Wales and the projected costs of protecting new buildings with sprinklers.
Published in April 2012, the BRE report2 has generated considerable discussion and debate particularly as it found that whilst sprinklers were cost effective when installed in new care homes and halls of residence etc, they would not be cost effective in single occupancy houses. However, supporters of the Measure, such as the Chief Fire Officers’ Association, have challenged this view by pointing out that the figures used to determine the statistical value of a life in the UK is lower than that used in other countries. Indeed, in Norway the figure used is almost double and the USA places a value 3 times larger than is used here.
Furthermore, although the figures indicated that the average cost of a sprinkler system would be approximately £3,075 per house and £879 per flat, organisations such as the European Fire Sprinkler Network believes that the costs will reduce, as has happened in other countries around the world where similar legislation has been introduced.
With an eye to both effective and efficient systems, the fire sprinkler industry considers that: provided sprinkler installations are properly designed and installed to the current British Standard (BS 9251) and that the co-operation of the local water company is obtained, savings should be achievable on the figures quoted. This is because connections can be made directly to the town main supply, thus alleviating the need to always supply water from a dedicated tank and pump and which the ‘Regulatory Impact Assessment’ figures assumed would necessarily be the case. Indeed, the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association
(BAFSA) is of the opinion that, given adequate pressures and flows in supply pipes, almost 90% of new single occupancy houses could be fitted with sprinklers in this way thereby reducing the estimated cost by about one third.
Therefore, to ensure that all parties appreciate the need to provide cost effective life safety sprinkler systems that comply fully with water regulations, efforts have been made to secure the support of the water supply companies both in Wales and throughout the UK, and BAFSA is working closely with them and the organisation Water UK. One important outcome of this work has been the recent publication of a new protocol 3 which has been agreed between the fire and water industries.
Clearly, a growing demand for sprinklers will require the recruitment of extra staff and the potential exists for many existing companies to expand and even new companies to evolve. Another challenge therefore, will be to ensure that contractors employ competent workers so that equipment is properly installed and maintained.
Suitable training and ‘up-skilling’ courses and qualifications are considered to be essential, and work is underway, in collaboration with Neath Port Talbot College in Swansea, to provide additional training capacity for Wales. The college has recognised the need for practical vocational training in this field and has already secured the services of an experienced fire sprinkler engineer. Interestingly, this is probably the first building college in Europe to develop such training.
Evolution of Sprinklers for Life Safety
Automatic Fire Sprinkler systems were invented some 200 years ago. However, up until relatively recent times, they have been used primarily as a ‘property protection’ tool rather than for ‘life safety’. But the development of ‘fast responding’ sprinkler heads in the 1980s has now enabled sprinklers to be used for life safety applications and much use of these products has been made in Canada, the United States of America, Scandinavia and New Zealand.
With this growing experience, many experts in the field of fire safety are calling for better use of such systems. Indeed, it is believed that most, if not all, fire and rescue services are pressing governments to act and introduce legislative measures so that residential fire sprinklers become much more widely used.
Wales has taken a major step forward in the fight against fire; they will surely be joined by others soon. It therefore behoves all involved with the provision of good quality housing to take note. After all, as one delegate bluntly put it at a recent seminar on the topic: “housing is currently so scarce we really cannot afford to let it burn down.”
Unique event, London 2014: Fire Sprinkler International 2014
Fire Sprinkler 2014 will be the only conference outside of the USA to focus on fire sprinklers in 2014. Sprinklers are still not used in Europe as widely as they should be and this event is intended to demonstrate best practice and more effective use of sprinkler technology. Jointly hosted in London by the European Fire Sprinkler Network and the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, Fire Sprinkler International 2014 will provide a unique forum for those who wish to change the attitudes of legislators, regulators and building owners. With an array of international speakers, delegates can be assured that they leave Fire Sprinkler International 2014 informed, inspired and certainly with a broader knowledge of the capacity, capabilities and consistent performance of sprinklers. To complement the delegates’ experience there will be an exhibition supported by a range of international companies providing products, equipment and expertise.
Visit www.firesprinklerinternational.com or more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
1 The Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011 (Commencement No.1) Order 2013
2 Cost Benefit Analysis of Residential Sprinklers for Wales – BRE Global – April 2012
3 Guidelines for the Supply of Water to Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems – National Fire Sprinkler Network Water Liaison Group – December 2013
Ian Gough MIFireE MBEng
Senior Technical Advisor
British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA)
Tel: 01353 65987