Insurers call for stricter fire sprinkler rules after commercial claims spike – MICHAEL BOW
BRITAIN’S top insurers are lobbying to make fire sprinklers compulsory in new warehouses after a surge in payouts linked to fire claims last year. The Association of British Insurers (ABI), which represents members like Axa and RSA, is calling for a change in the law after average claims topped £25,000 for the first time. They have surged 165% over the past decade.
Guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government, led by Sajid Javid, currently only recommends sprinklers in warehouses of more than 20,000 square metre, a stance at odds with the places like France and Holland where sprinklers are compulsory for sites as small as 3,000 square metre.
The growth of online shopping means rising numbers of small depots are sprouting up to cater for faster delivery but only 20% of sites up to 10,000 square meters – about the size of two football pitches – have fire sprinklers. “While the number of fires continues to fall, it is alarming that the average cost is rising so sharply,” ABI general insurance director James Dalton said.
There are similarly no rules on whether sprinklers should be installed in care homes or schools, something the ABI is also lobbying to change. But DCLG rebuffed the call and said it not want to “weigh them down” with more rules. “Building regulations already cover the use of sprinklers where they are necessary to protect people’s lives, such as large retail warehouses open to the public,“ a spokesman said. “However, while sprinklers can be effective, they are not the only way to protect buildings. We want businesses to make informed decisions about fire safety measures that are appropriate to their circumstances, and not weigh them down with extra regulations.”
Some companies shun fire sprinklers despite becoming victims of destructive commercial fires in the past. Sony’s distribution arm Sony DADC saw its depot go up in flames in August 2011 during London’s riots – leading to £80 million of insurance claims – but it has no sprinklers at its new depot, according to the ABI. Sony declined to comment.
Most large online retailers, like fashion chain Asos, use fire sprinklers in all their warehouses. Asos lost £30 million worth of stock in a fire at its Barnsley warehouse in 2014 but the sprinkler system was hailed as one of the reasons the impact was reduced. Argos also has sprinkler systems in its large warehouses, a spokeswoman said.
The London Fire Brigade supported the call for more fire sprinklers. “As well as limiting fire damage and being potentially life saving devices, sprinklers also help with business continuity by minimising disruption and allowing businesses to get back to normal as soon as possible,” deputy assistant commissioner for fire safety Andy Hearn said.