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BSA HIGHLIGHTS SPRINKLER KNOWLEDGE GAPS AT UKREIFF

The Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) was delighted to attend and host a stand at the UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF) on the 20-22nd May.  While the event provided an opportunity to engage with a diverse group of attendees, it also revealed continued gaps in knowledge about sprinkler systems among real estate professionals.

The conference held at the Royal Armouries Leeds & Leeds Dock featured expert panels discussing sustainable and transformational investment in the built environment. Tom Roche, Secretary of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, was one of over 12,000 built environment professionals attending and lent his insight into the discussions, stressing the importance of business resilience and safeguarding commercial premises from the outset.

The forum featured a series of sessions on a range of topics including the Building Safety Act, with Dame Judith Hackitt as a panellist in one. It was evident that significant effort and interest is still being directed towards remediation work. It was interesting to note the role that sprinklers were viewed as a tool to mitigate risk. Like so much of the changing regulatory environment there were repeated concerns raised by developers about the lack of clarity in the new regulatory regime. The obvious outcome being delays in programme approvals with consequent deadline and project financing cost. A surprising element was the undercurrent of struggles with true collaboration among stakeholders.  The wrapper to this appeared to be the sharing of knowledge and the need to foster and grow trust between all parties; developers, consultants, financiers, lawyers and insurers.

On that topic one of the most surprising findings was the number of visitors to the stand across these stakeholder groups who admitted to discussing or making decisions about sprinklers without truly comprehending their benefits or how they operate.

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“We have known for a while that the knowledge gap surrounding sprinklers existed. What was surprising was that this gap persisted with those who  actively claimed to be involved in decisions about their provision,” said Tom Roche. “It’s concerning that such critical safety measures are being debated without a fundamental understanding of their capabilities and effectiveness.”

The BSA also noted a lack of awareness regarding the provision of sprinklers under regulatory guidance. Many attendees naturally expected the hotels they stayed in and even the large exhibition spaces would be provided with sprinklers. They expressed shock upon learning that they often lack sprinkler systems, despite the number of people within them.

Another strong stream within the forum was on sustainability. A lot of focus and attention was focused towards schemes that measure the sustainability of projects.  It sounded like a new form of accounting where all elements of carbon involved in the construction, operation and decommissioning of a project were weighed and measured. Given the need to address the sustainability challenge it was striking to see this attention and the number of people with a passion for this subject. The case for the re-use of buildings and materials was very strong.  What was striking to the BSA was again that that “shock” events like fire and damage to projects were not part of the thinking. Unfortunately, the potential for damage from a fire during the 50 year life of a building was not something that could be found in these programmes. One wonders if we are missing an opportunity or whether the “accounting” has a gap.

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On this note another element that came as a surprise was the discussion on  compartmentalising large warehouses to avoid sprinkler requirements. According to consultants at the forum, some clients are still pursuing this approach to avoid installing sprinklers in new warehouses, despite the obvious fire risks associated with such massive buildings.

“After the recent large fire in Cannock, it was troubling to learn that some developers may be actively seeking ways to engineer out sprinklers,” added Tom Roche. “The scale of these buildings means that they are outside the scope of regulatory guidance and need real fire engineering solutions to ensure they are truly sustainable and do not endanger lives but also preserve valuable assets and investments at risk.”

Despite these concerning findings, the three-day event provided an opportunity for the BSA to educate attendees on the multitude of benefits sprinklers provide for life safety, asset protection and environmental protection, and address misconceptions.

By exposing the gaps in regulatory guidance and highlighting the consequences of neglecting fire safety measures, the BSA hopes to inspire a more informed and responsible approach to sprinkler installation across UK business buildings.

For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org

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