In 2019, it was reported that only 15% of new schools being built in England were being fitted with fire suppression sprinkler systems. This was despite calls by the Fire Brigades Union for widespread installation, and despite this equipment being mandatory in newly built schools in Scotland and Wales.
Current government guidance suggests that, in England, sprinkler systems are not an essential form of fire protection in schools under 11 metres in height, except in those offering special needs education.
So who’s right? Are sprinkler systems a good choice for schools or not?
The case against sprinkler systems
The government’s stance on sprinkler systems in schools is based on some very positive and encouraging evidence: between 2010-2018 (the latest official data range available), there were a total of zero fatalities from school fires. This, of course, is fantastic. It highlights the dedication and skill of school workers in safely evacuating buildings and protecting children during emergency situations.
However, a low risk of mortality appears to be where the case against sprinkler systems ends.
The case for sprinkler systems
While there were no fatalities from school fires during the eight-year period, there were 244 reported casualties. And right now especially, it’s not only about injuries; it’s about education. Research by Zurich shows that 47 schools were completely destroyed – and a further 230 seriously damaged – in just five years, with the insurance firm estimating a loss of 390,000 teaching hours. At a time when children’s education has already been heavily impacted by COVID-19, more must be done to prevent disruption.
And again, while we can look at the lack of fatalities as good news, the fact is that schools are nearly twice as likely to suffer a fire breaking out than other non-residential buildings. It may seem like this risk could be reduced through improved processes, such as safer kitchen practices. However, Jim Knight from the Department for Children, Schools, and Families states that 60% of school fires are deliberate.
Perhaps the reason for the government’s reluctance to mandate sprinkler systems across all new schools in England comes from concerns relating to this specific form of fire protection. There are valid worries:
- Cost: Investment is likely to be a significant concern for the government. However, a report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) suggests that schools could reduce their insurance premiums by around 65% with the help of sprinklers. Sprinkler systems could therefore pay for themselves within five years.
- Damage: There is a worry that automatic fire suppression systems could trigger in a non-emergency, causing widespread damage to schools. The NFER report estimates that one in every 14,000,000 sprinklers discharge when they shouldn’t – and when they do, their impact is compartmentalised.
So… are sprinklers right for schools?
- The Association of School and College Leaders
- The NAHT
- The National Education Union
- The late MP Sir David Amess
- The Association of British Insurers
- The National Fire Chief Council
- The Fire Bridges Union
- The Welsh Government
- The Scottish Government
This is a list of just a few people and organisations that have argued that sprinkler systems belong in all schools.
At Eversafe, we believe the same. We’ve undertaken a number of projects across Great Yarmouth, Oxford, Surrey, Salisbury and more, to deliver and service school sprinkler systems. They act as vital protection against fire spread, giving teachers more time to safely evacuate children in the event of an emergency.
For more information about sprinkler systems for schools, or other forms of fire protection such as dry and wet risers, call the team at Eversafe on 01795 713123, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.