THE PAST 25 YEARS have seen the construction of a significant number of new buildings, writes Iain Cox, but questions remain unanswered regarding the fire safety features and strategies at many of these properties.
One has to wonder why fire safety has not been considered in the same way as the design, aesthetics or “green” credentials of a given building. The optimistic belief that a fire “won’t happen” could explain why companies don’t always consider the true impact of a fire and its consequences. They underestimate the direct financial impact of a fire event on the property and the business, as well as the time required to recover from such an incident.
All of this can impact the value of a business over time. A commercial property that is protected in terms of fire protection will have much greater intrinsic value, but the “market” does not seem to appreciate this truism.
When looking at the value of any given property, it’s important to think about performance over time. For this we use metrics, data and evaluations. However, how does this include consideration of risks and events – such as fire – that may occur? Compare that to an energy performance certificate rating, which is considered a key indicator of a building’s energy efficiency and energy costs. This information must be provided when selling a property. The absence of a rating would be questioned and the value of the property affected if such information is not provided.
Fire Safety Ratings
The same is not always true for fire safety. There are no fire safety ratings of buildings. If fire safety information is not available, this scenario does not always raise questions. It should do it, though, and is arguably a more important element for some buildings in today’s world.
There are moves underway for selected buildings to have this information provided through the ‘golden thread’ that emerged from the Hackitt report. However, this needs to extend to a wider set of buildings. Basically, we have to ask ourselves how the building provides fire safety and how it is protected against such events. Where is the supporting information? If vital details related to fire safety are not provided, this should have a negative impact on the value of the property under consideration.
For example, if one office building has sprinklers, fire alarms and documented maintenance plans, etc., and another has no sprinklers, the sprinklered building is clearly worth more. If nothing else, he has more equipment. The value of this equipment can be seen on the functional level, but it is also an investment in terms of fire safety and protection of the property over time. An investment in a sprinkler system means that if something goes wrong, more of the asset is likely to be left behind as a result of a fire. A well-protected asset therefore has an intrinsic value.
It also raises the question of the value of property that has been sprinklered over time. Some would say that value only comes to fruition when you prevent something bad from happening. The analogy of car airbags would be a good example, because you hope you never have to use them. Interestingly, airbags were developed in the early 1950s and although they are a feature of all modern cars, this safety solution is still not a legal requirement. However, a car could not receive a proper safety rating without an airbag system installed.
Today, automatic fire sprinklers are not widely used in the UK, at least partly because regulatory guidelines rarely prescribe their use and also because, even when prescribed, they are often “designed for value”.
Automatic fire sprinklers prevent large fires because they automatically activate over a fire, controlling or even extinguishing the fire before members of the local fire and rescue department arrive on the scene . They protect the lives of people in the building and firefighters who attend an incident, but they also prevent major damage – even destruction – of a building due to fire.
The misconception surrounding the cost of sprinkler systems can be dispelled by looking at the actual costs of a building over its lifetime. Some will say that if a fire does not occur, the cost of the sprinkler system has been wasted. However, when thinking about airbags, we don’t make the same arguments if they are not used when owning a car.
Why, for example, deliver a warehouse, factory or school as cheaply as possible, but omit fire safety measures, only to discover five years later that the structure is completely lost due to fire, thus incurring costs higher ?
Landlords may not fully consider the risk of fire over the life of a building. This often manifests in them not valuing what they own in terms of property replacement potential and thinking they will recover from a fire much faster than they expected. make.
Risk put in context
We need to put risk in context and understand the impact so that what is really at stake is understood and planned for appropriately. Clear results in the face of a fire can then be defined. An inescapable element is that the inclusion of a sprinkler system can prevent major financial and material loss and contain what could otherwise be a potential major disaster, turning it into a minor inconvenience instead.
Fire is indiscriminate and inexplicable, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to take steps to prevent and control it when it happens. As warehouses and similar industrial buildings are likely to proliferate in the years to come, now is the time to consider how – and why – we should protect these valuable assets that may not be prestigious, but are nonetheless vital. for UK business infrastructure. We must do everything we can to protect the value of these properties and, of course, those who work there.
Iain Cox is Chairman of the Business Sprinkler Alliance
*For more information on the Business Sprinkler Alliance, visit the organization’s website at www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org