Two years on from the tragedy of Grenfell where 72 people died, the law still states that in England only new residential properties above 30 m in height must be fitted with sprinklers. In commercial buildings such as warehouses, only those over 20,000 sqm must have sprinklers. Last year 334 people died as a result of fires and over 80% of these are from single occupancy dwellings such as houses, flats and maisonettes. Is it not time to change the law and fit all new residential properties with sprinklers?
The Grenfell fire was similar to one that broke out in Dubai in 2016 - the difference is that "the building [in Dubai] had sprinklers and nobody was killed", according to Alan Brinson of the European Fire Sprinkler Network. The need for change is apparent which is why Scotland and Wales have both updated their laws regarding fire safety and sprinklers. In Wales, sprinklers have had to be fitted in all new residential properties since 2016 and in Scotland they have to be fitted in buildings of six storeys or more.
Furthermore, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has frequently called for changes to sprinkler regulations, notably during their campaign week in May 2019. Their research showed that sprinkler systems are highly effective when they operate; extinguishing or containing the fire on 99% of occasions. This research also demonstrated that in both converted and purpose-built flats, sprinklers are 100% effective in controlling fires when they function correctly.
The case for new sprinkler legislation, particularly in England & Wales is undoubtedly strong. In almost any other industry, regulations would have already been updated and perhaps the time has finally come. On the 6th of September, the government has proposed plans that all new housing blocks of 6 stories or more would require sprinklers. Moreover, a ‘protection board’ is being set up to identify new risks with the Home Office and National Fire Chiefs Association; £10m a year is being earmarked to support the board.