London Fire Brigade Trying to Change Minds on Sprinklers

Sprinklers are present in just 1 percent of the incidents at care homes, retirement homes, and hostels to which Brigade fire crews respond; of the 428 fires responded to by London firefighters at such facilities during 2017, only five of the facilities had fire sprinklers.

The London Fire Brigade submitted comments in early March on Approved Document B, guidance that sets the standard for fire safety and is used to develop designs for new and renovated buildings. As the Brigade explained, ensuring that the guidance provides the appropriate level of safety for the public and firefighters is critical. The government invited comments on the guidance after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 killed 72 people.

The Brigade's comments are detailed and, to my eyes, alarming. They point out that housing developers consistently ignore their advice on sprinklers. Although the Brigade informs thousands of developers annually that sprinklers should be included in their planned builds, a spot check of 15 housing blocks in 2016 found just two had been equipped with sprinklers. "Self-regulation in the building industry is not working and so we feel compelled to ask the Government to step in," the comments state.

Sprinklers are present in just 1 percent of the incidents at care homes, retirement homes, and hostels to which Brigade fire crews respond; of the 428 fires responded to by London firefighters at such facilities during 2017, only five of the facilities had fire sprinklers. The comments argue that automatic fire suppression systems (AFSS) are not currently required, but should be, in tall buildings used as hotels and student housing, and AFSS coverage for warehouses should be fully reviewed as to the potential risks to attending firefighters due to the size, scale, and the way such buildings are now used.

There's a lot to digest in the Brigade’s document, including this sobering reality: Smoke alarms weren't present in 49 percent of the homes where Brigade firefighters responded to fires during 2017/18.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lee Drawbridge said the previous guidance is outdated, confusing, and lets designers short-cut safety. "It would be reckless to miss the opportunity for change to make our buildings safer for everyone, but especially those who would struggle to escape a fire. Crucial measures we want to see in the guidance include ensuring sprinklers are installed in more buildings, suitable provisions to support people who may be vulnerable in a fire situation, and stricter rules when refurbishing buildings."

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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