Sprinklers ensure resilience for businesses

The inclusion of a sprinkler system can prevent major financial and equipment losses for UK businesses. The Business Sprinkler Alliance explain how to mitigate against the risk of fire damage, both immediate and long term, and how sprinklers can enhance business continuity and responsibility

From healthcare facilities to hotels, offices to industrial buildings, the impact of a major fire can be devastating and many businesses never recover. To reduce the risk to life and the degree of damage in a fire event, automatic sprinkler systems are proven time and time again to be both effective and efficient in a wide range of fire scenarios and building types, affording greater levels of fire protection to people, property and the environment. This is why they are chosen to protect buildings and businesses, ensuring continuity and productivity. In the event of a fire, many businesses with sprinkler systems find they are back up-and-running in a matter of hours.

In the early hours of 12 March 2018, a devastating fire destroyed a recently-opened unsprinklered warehouse in Daventry. Despite more than 50 firefighters tackling the blaze, the Gardman garden supplies distribution centre was completely destroyed, impacting not only the business and its employees, but also retailers, the local economy and the environment.

The loss of £20 million of stock was felt by retailers who rely on their more than 4,000 lines of garden products. There were disruption and smoke warnings issued following the fire while fire water run-off needed to be monitored by the environment agency. There was the environmental impact of disposing of the damaged property, where the costs, resources and materials required to rebuild it would be in excess of £30 million, significantly more than the cost to install sprinklers which would have been in the region of £850,000 to £1.2 million. Whilst thankfully there was no loss of life, the lasting effect is undeniable.

Financial loss
Sadly, fires such as this damage and destroy businesses on a regular basis. Businesses that do recover only do so at great cost to their clients, suppliers and their reputation. Fire remains the leading cause of commercial property loss with the Association of British Insurers predicting that UK businesses could stand to lose £10 billion between 2010 and 2020 as a result of fire. However, businesses should take note of findings from the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters which found that 79 per cent of businesses under insure their property by 20 per cent or more. At the same time, they under estimate business interruption after a fire by 50 per cent.  

Home Office figures show that there have been 22,800 fires in industrial and commercial buildings (ICBs) in the past three years. But the costs of fires in industrial and commercial buildings go far beyond the costs and impacts on individual businesses and insured costs. Fires are the cause of significant economic, environmental and community costs which are ultimately borne by the taxpayer.

Out of business
In the worst case scenario, the effect of a fire is the closure of a business. This is not uncommon. It can prove impossible for small businesses and some medium sized ones to recover from the effect of fire; and evidence shows larger businesses choose to consolidate operations in other sites following the loss of a site to fire. Both productivity and jobs are lost in these cases.

In either case, the resulting fire has an impact on a number of businesses within the supply chain. Companies supplying the fire damaged business will lose business temporarily or even permanently; businesses which depend upon products or services from the fire damaged business have to find other means of supply; businesses surrounding the fire-affected business will often have to cease trading for the duration of the fire and sometimes even longer.

Nearly all fires in ICBs cause transport disruption, while many also require residential evacuations and school closures.

The cost to the environment
All fires in ICBs create environmental impacts and costs including carbon emissions. A study by Bureau Veritas has calculated that up to 350,000 tonnes of CO2 a year are emitted because of fires in ICBs. Furthermore, the same study has calculated that more than nine billion litres of water are needlessly used by the UK fire service each year to extinguish fires in ICBs (equivalent to 15 million UK households’ daily water use). This vast amount of water used each year to put out fires in ICBs could be avoided if the buildings were fitted with sprinkler systems.

While the impact is incalculable, the smoke and emissions generated from a fire are pollutants which can lower the quality of the air that we breathe. Fire-water run-off can, in certain situations when buildings contain pollutants, contaminate watercourses which is costly to treat. Furthermore, there is significant unnecessary waste and use of resources to rebuild destroyed property.

The sensible approach
As a small, family-run food manufacturing company that prides itself on continuity of supply and guaranteeing deliveries to its customers, including national supermarkets, Birmingham-based Cleone Foods must ensure the company manages risk by minimising potential threats and disruption to its business. With fire continuing to be one of the biggest threats to businesses, Cleone Foods have recognised the resilience benefits of fire sprinklers, and fitted them to their premises.

The single-site manufacturing and distribution facility, close to Birmingham’s jewellery quarter, produces Jamaican patties, a traditional Caribbean snack derived from a Cornish Pasty. Since the company was formed in 1988, expansion has been rapid and it has achieved an excellent reputation, enabling it to secure significant contracts supplying leading national food retailers. With 70 staff running two shifts, there are fixed financial penalties in place for the company if it fails to satisfy its orders, which in the event of prolonged disruption, would impact profitability and worse still, could affect the survival of the business.

Simon Noble, project manager at Cleone Foods Ltd, said: “We are a small food company supplying major supermarket chains and they are very big on maintaining continuity of supply. We have to keep them happy and cannot afford to have any disruption to our day-to-day operations. As part of our continuity strategy, we have reviewed all of our internal and external processes and one of the areas that we identified that could dramatically affect our business is that of a fire at our premises. To address this risk and effectively protect our business, thereby safeguarding jobs, we have installed sprinklers throughout the facility.”

To ensure continuity and productivity, a sprinkler system has been installed throughout the 1,000m2 site. Contrary to the myths that exist about sprinklers, the site team understand well that in the event of fire only the sprinkler heads that are directly above the fire will be triggered. The water from the sprinkler heads will have the effect of containing or even extinguishing the fire without causing damage to non-affected areas.

The alarm and sprinkler system are tested weekly, and servicing is completed once a year by a specialist contractor. The weekly test involves checking the water pressures, carrying out an alarm test and checking the interlocks of the fire alarm system. Further fire protection measures at the site include a full multi-zone fire alarm with remote monitoring, which will automatically call the local fire brigade to attend in the case of an activation.

The inclusion of a sprinkler system can prevent major financial and equipment losses, containing what could be a potential major disaster and ensuring it is only a minor inconvenience. Proven time and again with consistent reliability, it is a small price to pay to prevent a business’s hard earned success from going up in flames.

Noble adds: “As a business we have to be prepared. Sprinklers form part of our resilience strategy, the success of which is highlighted by impressive growth figures and minimal disruption to the business since its implementation in 2009. It’s about being a responsible business and the inclusion of sprinklers is part of our commitment to our customers, our staff and our local community.”

Automatic sprinkler systems offer the business owner reliable, long-lived and proven technology which can reduce the risk to life and degree of damage caused in a fire event. These systems make buildings and businesses resilient to fire incidents because they control or extinguish a fire before the fire and rescue service arrive. The impacted business can be back up-and-running within hours, avoiding the economic and social costs. 

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