Target fire safety effort where it counts.
On the 30th May the Welsh assembly announced that from September 2013 fire sprinkler systems must be installed in all new build housing and refurbishment projects in Wales. This follows legislation passed by the assembly in February 2011. Somewhat embarrassingly the announcement coincided with the publication of a BRE Global cost benefit analysis, commissioned by the Welsh Government, which concluded installing sprinklers in single occupancy residential homes was not remotely cost effective.

The BRE report was more favourable for sprinklers in homes in multiple occupancy (HMO) including care homes and dormitories. This is as you might expect particularly as many HMO’s house vulnerable and otherwise disadvantaged residents.

The Welsh Government is clearly undeterred although the comment by environment minister, John Griffiths that Wales will “be at the forefront of reducing fire risk and cutting the number of avoidable deaths and injuries caused by fires in residential premises” rather demeans the considerable progress made in other parts of the UK in reducing fire incidents in the home.

Either way the announcement is good news for the sprinkler industry and will provide a valuable practical insight as time progresses. Of course with an estimated 1.35 million existing dwellings in the country exempt from the project and new build completions running at below 5000 a year it will take a very long time. Official statistics published for Wales also show an average ratio of around one fire reported for every 5000 dwellings and one fire related death for every 80,000 dwellings each year. Mr Griffiths is possibly a shade over optimistic on the impact of the legislation.

Surely the effort (and taxpayer’s money) should be invested on educating the householders of the existing 1.35 million homes in Wales on how to improve fire safety. Advice on selecting, installing and maintaining smoke alarms, ensuring means of escape, how and when to use fire blankets and financial support for high risk groups to purchase fire extinguishers, fire alarms and yes, if necessary fire sprinkler systems. All these initiatives are already happening now across England to my certain knowledge.