Of the 673 new schools built and opened under the Government’s flagship school programme, only 105 were fitted with sprinklers, writes Iain Cox. With hundreds of schools in the UK having a fire each year, this alarming statistic once again only emphasises that money spent on dealing with the aftermath of fires should be being spent on sprinklers.
The BSA shares the concerns of Labour MP and former teacher Stephanie Peacock who recently said: “The ridiculous thing is that we spend far more rebuilding and repairing schools after fires than we would have paid to install sprinklers in the first place.”
School fires have a devastating impact on both the school involved and the community. Measures such as sprinklers drastically reduce the amount of damage done when there’s a fire, and enable schools to be back up-and-running quickly, in turn reducing the cost – both economically and socially – to the public.
Sprinklers absent at The Academy
On 24 April, The Selsey Academy opened the doors to its rebuilt premises after a fire devastated the original, unsprinklered school back in August 2016. In the interim, pupils were taught in temporary classrooms in four locations in the Selsey area and then inside temporary school portakabins until the new school was completed. Sadly, the Trust that runs it has confirmed the new school has been rebuilt without sprinklers.
This is another case of value engineering, where the cost of installing sprinklers has been cut out without any idea of the potential impact. Surely it’s better to protect the asset so that you will not have disruption and the lost opportunity?
Ensuring the safety of a building’s occupants is considered the bare minimum under current regulations, but it’s clearly not the optimal outcome. A sprinkler system would serve to protect both the occupants and the building, allowing students to return to normality far more rapidly and with considerably less disruption to teachers’ already hectic schedules.
Furthermore, the Association of British Insurers says the most expensive school fires typically cost around £2.8 million to address. Over the past four years an average 24 of these large-loss fires have occurred every year, totalling £67.2 million.
Mandatory in Scotland and Wales
Currently, sprinklers are mandatory in new school buildings in Scotland and Wales, but not in England and Northern Ireland. The Government advises that even a single missed day of education can have significant effects on future examination results. The installation of sprinklers could limit the damage from fire, significantly reducing the potential disruption to the students’ school life.
The same misconceptions about cost and the impact of disruption can be seen across the commercial and industrial sector. The BSA wants to see better education on the substantial benefits that fire sprinklers can deliver to the business community and wider economy.
Fire doesn’t discriminate. Whether it’s a school, a car park, a warehouse or an office, fires happen on a regular basis. However, they can be contained and extinguished by systems such as sprinklers to ensure that life is not put at risk and businesses, jobs and the economy are protected.
Iain Cox is Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), the National Fire Sprinkler Network (NSFN) and the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council
*For more information on the BSA visit www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org