On the 2nd of April, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP announced new measures including the mandatory installation of fire sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in all new high-rise blocks of flats over 11 metres tall. The limit has been decreased from 30 metres, which means we will begin to see apartment buildings of three stories and above, equipped with fire sprinkler technology, by law. These changes will be in effect from the 26th November 2020, and is expected to affect approximately 1,680 buildings each year; that’s 63,000 apartments nationwide.
This follows the government’s £1 billion pledge to remove unsafe non-ACM cladding from high-rise buildings. They have made it clear that unsafe materials are to be removed as quickly as possible. The building safety reforms also include compliance incentives, plus sanctions and prosecution if the rules are not followed, which will have an effect on everyone in the construction and property industries.
Regulations on building safety have been under increased scrutiny since the Grenfell Tower incident in June 2017. An independent review of building regulations and fire safety was announced in July of the same year. Questions were raised about the safety of high rise buildings in particular. Review Chair Dame Judith Hackitt consulted the Buildings Regulations Advisory Committee, who discussed building regulations, the construction and housing industries and the fire sector. The final report was published in May 2018. The 50 recommendations in the report led to the launch of the Building a Safer Future Consultation in June 2019. This year’s measures are a monumental step up in legislation after what has been an eye-opening three years.
While the second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is underway, hearings have been subject to delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, the government’s announcement of these ambitious reforms sends a strong message that safety in multiple occupancy buildings, particularly high-rise apartments is still a priority.
Any amount of discussion on fire safety is a good thing, because it’s a very real issue, much of which affects us in our own homes:
Deaths are much more likely to occur at home. There is much to be done to improve fire safety in dwellings, and fire sprinkler systems have been proven to do exactly that. It is no surprise to BlazeMaster Fire Protection Systems that sprinklers are such a prominent part of the conversation.
It’s possible that in light of these announcements, popular misconceptions about fire sprinklers could re-emerge. For example, it is often considered that fire sprinklers comprising multiple sprinkler heads throughout a floor or building, go off all at once when fire is detected. This isn’t the case; only activated heads trigger the release of water when the sensor bulb inside the sprinkler detects a temperature of 68°C or above.
Controlled fire suppression is especially crucial in multi occupancies such as high-rise flats. Accurate dispersion of fire at the source of the breakout using sprinklers greatly reduces the risk to other residents in the building suffering damage from fire or water.
In a European study conducted over 10 years by the FM and LPC, 98% of fires that broke out in buildings were controlled by sprinklers alone, 60% of which were controlled by no more than 4 sprinkler heads. Not only do they save lives; fire sprinkler systems require far less water to be effective than a firefighter’s hose and greatly reduce water damage to buildings.
BlazeMaster Fire Protection Systems are committed to furthering the progress we are beginning to see. We have developed systems using CPVC pipe and fittings, to allow for a safe, strong and efficient installation process that is ready to serve our communities well. We have already seen a significant impact on communities in the UK as a result of successful retrofitting of high rise residences, such as Barton Village in Manchester in 2018.
The ten-storey apartment building was retrofitted with BlazeMaster CPVC Fire Protection Systems following the Grenfell tragedy. On June 8th 2019, 82-year-old Eunice Kelly set fire to her bed as she smoked in her ground floor flat. The sprinkler system responded and doused the flames, resulting in minor burns to the resident and minor damage to the property.
Following the project in Manchester, we recognised that more needs to be done in terms of nationwide fire protection. The new legislation is a sure sign that voices have been heard, and BlazeMaster is ready to act.
Grenfell Tower consisted of 24 floors containing 120 apartments, in which there were 70 fatalities. No fire sprinklers were installed in the building. It’s now crucial for construction industry professionals, fire safety engineers and residents to understand the benefits of fire sprinkler technology, now that it is a fundamental part of building regulations and a proven success in protecting life.