Welsh boost for the Sprinkler Industry?

Welsh boost for the Sprinkler Industry?

In what has been hailed as a landmark decision in Fire Safety the Welsh Assembly members voted on Wednesday 27th Jan this year to make the installation of automatic fire sprinklers compulsory in all new build homes in Wales.

The euphoria amongst the proponents may well be short lived as the Welsh vote is only the first step and now needs to be formally approved in both houses of Westminster before the legislation can receive Royal assent. Allocating parliamentary time this side of the General Election seems highly unlikely and the new incoming Administration may not be so keen on supporting such legislation.

Not that I am in any way against the wider use of automatic sprinklers but I do see some difficulties in enforcing any legislation. The powerful construction industry lobby may well have something to say as it will add a few thousand pounds to building costs.  There is also the issue of ensuring regular maintenance and testing which is essential with Automatic Sprinkler Systems and will represent an ongoing annual cost for the householder.

Private and self build home builders could well argue that other equally effective options are available in the form of smoke alarms and the more versatile domestic friendly fire extinguishers like the ABF, that are already reducing the incidence of deaths and injuries from domestic fires.  The figures bear this out with official statistics showing sustained year on year falls in death and injuries from domestic fires.

I also think Ronnie King, vice-chairman of the National Fire Sprinkler Network was letting enthusiasm get the better of his judgement in claiming the move would lead to making Wales the safest place in which to live in the United Kingdom. He went so far as comparing Residential Sprinklers to the installation of air bags in cars and added that “in the course of time fire deaths in Wales will be almost eliminated, and the horrific burns injuries reduced by up to 80% because of this wonderful visionary decision taken by the Welsh Assembly government.”

Now the current housing stock in Wales according to the latest Government statistics is 1.4million homes or thereabouts virtually none of which have, or will ever have sprinklers fitted. New house builds are running at around 5000 per year and demolitions at less than 100 a year.  You don’t need to do the detailed math’s to see that “in the course of time” to reduce injuries by 80% will take a very, very long time indeed to achieve with sprinklers alone. Centuries in fact.  It is akin to saying the World will end on Wednesday without specifying which Wednesday.

With the exception of multi occupancy complexes – where careless or reckless homeowners can put other residents at risk – legislation is arguably not the answer. A continuance of the high profile fire safety awareness campaigns, the free smoke alarm scheme and the low cost of alternative fire safety equipment will continue to make our homes a safer place. Promoting the undoubted benefits of sprinkler systems should obviously continue, but on the basis of choice and affordability rather than law enforcement.

Tony

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