The legislation is not yet in force but a 12 week “consultation” process announced by Welsh Housing and Regeneration Minister, Carl Sargeant last week brings implementation one step closer.
When assembly member Ann Jones championed this legislation through the Assembly back in 2011 she cited support from the fire sprinkler industry and the fire and rescue services and cited concerns from the House Builders Federation as “reckless” and “malicious”. There is universal agreement that Fire Sprinklers are the most effective solution for protecting property, particularly business property subject to periodic occupancy. There is also a good case for high rise and other “Homes with Multiple Occupancy” where legislation already requires sprinkler use.
My question however is whether a mandatory requirement for sprinklers in single occupancy homes will be one, cost effective and two, deliver the results envisage by Carl Sargeant that “These proposals are a significant step in taking forward fire safety in Wales.”
Using the Welsh Assembly’s own statistics there were 2004 fires in all types of dwellings in 2012 resulting in 13 fatalities and 460 injuries. The current Welsh housing stock is some 1.35 million so approximately one fatality for every 100000 homes on average.
The legislation only applies to new builds which are currently running at around 6000 properties per year which if sustained would arguably take over 16 years to add a further 100000 dwellings to save(statistically speaking) one life.
The cost of installation is a separate issue. The building industry led by the HBF calculates the cost of installation at around £5000 per dwelling –a figure hotly contested by the pro sprinkler lobby but that is to miss the point. The number of fire incidents across the UK has been on a downward trend for over a decade and down 50% in Wales since 2001/2. In Wales over a third (664) of the 2004 dwelling fires attended had no smoke alarm.
I would argue that the key to saving lives is to identify a fire before it grows out of control so you can put it out or get out safely. Very few house fires start when the premises are vacant. The cost of installing two or three smoke alarms, a carbon monoxide detector, a fire blanket and powder extinguisher would be around £50 per dwelling. Builders are also ever mindful of fire safety and modern construction methods guided by more stringent building regulations reflect this. Add better Fire safety awareness and more affordable fire protection equipment and you have an explanation as to why fire incidents are falling.
No doubt house builders should be encouraged to offer sprinklers as an option to those that can afford them but I would argue that overall the legislation proposed is unnecessary and will have virtually no impact in reducing fire fatalities.