Study shows that, on average, fire sprinklers are sound investment for larger warehouses

One in five warehouses in England, approximately 621 premises, will have a fire requiring the attendance of fire fighters each year. The total annual cost to the UK economy of fires in English warehouses without fire sprinklers is £232 million.

The main finding from a three-year study conducted independently by BRE Global and commissioned by the Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA ) has shown that sprinklers are, on average, a cost effective investment for warehouses with a floor area above 2,000 m2, with the greatest benefit arising from the reduction in direct fire losses.

The study looked at the whole-life cost benefit analysis for fire sprinkler installation in three ranges of warehouse sizes.

Key findings from the BRE study include:

  • The whole life costs for warehouse buildings larger than 2,000m2 (around half a football pitch in size) with fire sprinklers are on average 3.7 times lower than ones without them
  • Fire sprinklers were, on average, not cost-effective in warehouses with an area below 2,000m2
  • Environmental benefits from sprinklers include a reduction in CO2 emissions from fire, reduced size of fire and reduced quantities of water used to fight fire
  • Only 20% of warehouses between 2,000 and 10,000m2 are fitted with fire sprinklers. For warehouses above 10,000m2, the estimated fraction with fire sprinklers is 67%
  • If all warehouses above 2,000m2 were fitted with sprinklers, the annual saving to businesses in England could be up to £210 million.

The research will be launched in the House of Commons today alongside a new study on the financial and economic impact of warehouse fires from the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Dr Debbie Smith, Director of Fire Science and Building Products at the BRE, said:

“Despite a year-on-year decrease in the number of commercial fires, the estimated annual cost of these fires is rising along with related societal and environmental impacts. This project has broken new ground in terms of evaluating these broader sustainability impacts of fire in warehouses and demonstrating that, on average, sprinklers can be shown to deliver a net benefit.”

Iain Cox, BSA Chairman and former Chief Fire Officer of Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said:

“The findings of this study scratch the surface in terms of the return fire sprinklers bring to business. In the future the BSA intends to look at the cost effectiveness fire sprinklers have on other sectors, such as manufacturing. What is clear from the current research is that insurance alone is not enough to fully protect companies from the long-term impacts of fire. We urge the government to do more to encourage the installation of fire sprinklers in commercial premises and promote a better understanding of the positive impacts of physical resilience.”