A step closer to enhanced UK fire legislation – but what else can businesses do?

New UK fire legislation would represent a step forward in property risk management, but FM Global’s Russell Kirby argues that businesses should implement a business impact analysis at the very beginning of the project design phase.

In recent years, fires in the UK have been decreasing in frequency, but increasing in severity. For instance in 2012, the cost of commercial fire damage in the UK was circa £620 million – equating to £1.7 million every single day. It is also estimated that over a third of businesses never resume operations after a major fire - losing orders, contracts and key employees, which results in lost jobs and services to the community.

Earlier this month, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) urged the UK Government to modernise fire safety legislation by calling for compulsory sprinklers in all new schools, care homes and warehouses over 2,000 square metres. So far, more than a dozen organisations have confirmed their support for this proposal, including the London Fire Brigade, the British Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) and the Fire Protection Association (FPA).  

At FM Global, our belief is that “the majority of loss is preventable” and we support legislation that will help mitigate the damage that fire can bring to businesses and communities alike. When it comes to fire legislation for commercial property, the UK is currently well behind its European neighbours. In Germany, businesses have a legal requirement to install sprinklers in warehouses larger than 1,200 square metres. In Spain, the regulation is set for warehouses larger than 2,000 square metres. This is significantly smaller than the 20,000 square metres standard currently required in the UK.

Whilst any enhanced legislation would be a great step forward in fire risk management, a thorough business impact analysis should be considered at the project design phase in order to determine the overall risk management objectives. We continue to urge organisations to consider the bigger picture at the beginning of the design process of a building. Designers, developers and architects must work closely with the end users (i.e. – owners and operators) to understand the total business impact of new developments in order to establish an appropriate level of fire safety and building resilience.

When a property is being constructed there are a number of stakeholders involved, and commercial property can often be speculatively built, without a complete understanding of the end user’s requirement, or how it will fit into the grand scheme of the business or supply chain. The risk management thought process must be instilled into decision-making at the very beginning. Ultimately, businesses need to make their own decision for the right reasons.

At FM Global, we partner with clients that share our mutual philosophy when it comes to property loss prevention. They understand the benefits of going above and beyond what is mandated, providing their site is critical to the business. Taking loss prevention into account during the early stages of specification, design and construction in both new projects and regenerated buildings is what makes a business truly resilient.

Russell Kirby is Group Manager Account Engineering, London Operations, at FM Global