How sprinkler systems can reduce the cost of risk

  • The installation of sprinkler systems is not mandatory in the UK for most buildings
  • They can prevent not just catastrophic property damage and loss of a facility, but protect the most vulnerable occupants
  • Zurich Municipal has been campaigning for more than 20 years on school safety and the need for sprinkler installation

The outbreak of a fire at a school can be devastating, and could leave school staff, governors and families facing massive loss and disruption. However, sprinkler systems can not only prevent a catastrophe, but also save money too.

Every year there are more than 1,000 fires in school premises, and whilst the majority of these are small, they all have the potential to produce massive disruption, which may mean the loss of the facility for two to three years.

Every year, on average, Zurich Municipal deals with at least one major fire costing in excess of £10m. While the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires regular fire risk assessments to examine and control the likelihood of a fire starting, and the consequences of a fire if one were to start, it has not been a legal requirement for existing schools to have sprinkler systems in place.

The government’s guidance in this area, Building Bulletin 100, states there is “an expectation that sprinklers will be installed“ in new schools, but funding restrictions under the government’s austerity measures mean this is not happening to the extent of the previous Building Schools for the Future programme.

“The installation of sprinklers can cut property premiums by as much as 50%, so for anyone seeking to reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire in schools, it makes sense on every level,” notes Larry Stokes, Head of Property at Zurich Municipal.

Other benefits include reduced down-time, as fires are extinguished quickly, reduced build cost, insurance cost and, naturally, an increase in life safety. However, while sprinklers may seem like an obvious must-have, costs are always a concern.

“Prior to 2010, there was an update of the building regulations relating to schools, called ‘Building Bulletin 100’, which saw sprinklers moved up the agenda for the majority of new build schools,” says Larry.

“Unfortunately, austerity measures have seen sprinkler systems become a luxury item, rather than one we would expect. Under the old schemes about 70% of new build schools were fitted with new sprinklers, but now we have a situation where it seems to be one of the first things to be struck-out when they try to reduce the cost of the building.”

Debunking myths

While the argument for sprinkler systems may seem straight forward, there are those who oppose them due to the expense. However, if they are included early in a school’s plans, then sprinkler systems can provide a wealth of design freedoms and cost savings, as well as allowing schools to exceed their safety requirements.

Despite what you may see in films or TV, sprinkler heads work individually and will only activate when over a fire, so there is no need for concern that a property will suffer large amounts of water damage through their installation. Often the facility will be open later on the same day that a fire is extinguished.

The installation of sprinklers can cut property premiums by as much as 50%, so for anyone seeking to reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire in schools, it makes sense on every level

Larry Stokes, Head of Property at Zurich Municipal

A school without an adequate sprinkler system could potentially have to deal with increased damage if a blaze broke out, with staff and pupils possibly being forced to move to temporary accommodation in the aftermath. Everything from examination papers, school records and pupil submissions to university applications could be lost forever.

Zurich Municipal has been campaigning for more than 20 years on school safety and the need for sprinkler installation.

“In the past 15 years, more than 700 schools have installed sprinkler systems,” says Larry Stokes. “The fire service reports that they have helped to prevent fires to such an extent that the firemen simply had to clear up the water. Instead of being out of action for two or three years, the school was open the next day.

“At Zurich Municipal, we believe it makes perfect sense for anyone designing, building or refurbishing a school to place sprinkler systems at the heart of all their school design plans.”


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