Sprinklers in the UK

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has for many years advocated the benefits of Automatic Fire Suppression Systems, including sprinklers as part of an appropriate package of safety measures.

Fire does not discriminate, and nor should fire legislation; therefore, NFCC will continue to make the case for consistent legislation based across the UK.

The benefits of sprinklers include:

  • Saving lives and reduce injuries
  • Protecting property
  • Reducing the impact of fire on the environment
  • Reducing interruption to UK businesses
  • Assisting search and rescue operations and reducing the risk to firefighters
  • Increasing community resilience
  • Preserving heritage.

Legislation in the UK is often seen to be trailing behind other European countries - such as France where sprinklers are compulsory in commercial premises of 3,000m2 and over.  In England and Scotland they are required in new warehouses over 20,000 m2

In addition, slow adoption of a variety of different legislation applying to different buildings across the UK means there is a lack of consistency in fire standards.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, fire safety and regulation in the built environment has been the focus of much debate and review.

NFCC - through its Protection Policy and Reform Unit (PPRU) - has worked tirelessly to provide expert and technical advice and guidance, in a bid to influence and drive both government policy and legalisation change.

NFCC were represented on all the working groups formed as part of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, evidencing its expertise, professionalism and influence.

NFCC’s Automatic Fire Suppression Systems Position Statement sets out clear recommendations for the use of sprinklers based on life, building, economic and environmental risk.

In Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service worked with the Scottish Parliament’s Building and Fire Safety: Ministerial Working Group, to make improvement measures in response to the Grenfell Tower Fire.

This included taking forward a reducution the height threshold from 18m to 11m. Further measures championed by MSP David Stewart all new build social housing, flats, and shared multi-occupied residential buildings in Scotland must be fitted with automatic fire suppression systems from March 2021. 

NFCC has welcomed the change that we called for in 2019 within Approved Document B (ADB) of the Building Regulations which has lowered the threshold height for the installation of sprinklers in new blocks of flats to 11m in England. Our position statement can be found here.

A number of consultations have provided NFCC with the opportunity to input into improving building safety systems.

A key driver has been to consistently raise the importance of sprinklers and to ensure they are considered as part of fire protection across the built environment. This is not only to increase safety, but to ensure building resilience.

NFCC has long called for the Government to require the installation of sprinklers in schools, including the retrofitting of sprinklers in existing school buildings when relevant refurbishment takes place.  At present, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland differ in their requirements on sprinklers in schools yet the science of fire knows no political or geographical boundaries. Both Wales and Scotland require installation of sprinklers in new build and schools undergoing major refurbishment.

NFCC wants Government to support suggested changes to the Building Bulletin 100 (BB100), which covers guidance on fire safety in schools, ahead of it going out for further public consultation.

Keep up to date with the work of PPRU on the NFCC website. Below you can read  some of the responses to the consultations which set out NFCC’s case for sprinklers.

2020

Pre White Paper: Welsh Government Building Safety Position Statement (September 30th)

Fire Safety: Risk Prioritisation in Existing Buildings – A Call for Evidence  (February 26th) NFCC will await the response to this consultation but in our response we outline the fact that height does not necessarily equal risk. Risk can come from people, building use, design and history. A holistic approach to understanding risk means the use of sprinklers including retrofitting of sprinklers can be beneficial.

2019

Approved Document B: Sprinklers and other fire safety measures in high-rise blocks of flats (November 28th) The Ministerial announcement in April 2020  following this consultation was welcomed, but NFCC expressed some disappointment. Although sprinklers will be mandatory in new builds from 11m, this only applies to buildings whose overall height is above 18m, unlike Scotland. (Double check this)

Technical review of Building Bulletin 100: Design for fire safety in schools (May 31st) The responses are under review but in England only the most low risk schools must have sprinklers. The assessment tool and wording has, on occasions, been interpreted to avoid the installation of sprinklers. Life risk in school fire can be low but the impact of a fire in terms of cost, community and education can be great. The installation of sprinklers in new build schools would bring England in line with Scotland and Wales (if public money is being used)