The Effects of a Poorly Maintained Sprinkler System

Just like dry & wet risers, sprinkler systems require maintenance to keep them working properly. Under BS EN 12845 – the UK sprinkler standard for commercial and industrial premises – sprinkler systems should be visually inspected each week. There should also be an inspection of pipework and heads every quarter, and a full test once every 12 months. The problem? Not everyone adheres to these regulations.

The issue with sprinkler systems is that, from a technical perspective, they’re incredibly simple. There are no moving parts. There’s no complex underlying technology. They’re simply heat-sensitive systems that open as needed. This makes many people believe that as long as there’s water in the pipes, sprinklers will work optimally in an emergency situation. But there are things that can go wrong, such as:

  • Blocked pipes
  • Pipework corrosion
  • Debris-covered heads
  • Corrosion of flow arm switches

All of which can prevent even the best sprinkler system from operating as needed in the event of a fire. So if your sprinklers fail, what could happen? What are the effects – on your property, your tenants, your reputation, and your livelihood – of a poorly maintained sprinkler system? Let’s take a closer look…

What happens if sprinkler systems fail?

If your sprinkler system is poorly maintained and fails to operate correctly in an emergency, the best-case scenario is that you get very, very lucky. Perhaps you’re left dealing only with excessive water damage. Did you know that extinguishing a fire with a hose uses 95% more water than a sprinkler system? There may be high recovery costs, a notable reputation hit, and compensation for affected residents or business tenants.

The worst-case scenario? Multiple deaths. There are absolutely zero cases of fire-related fatalities in emergencies in buildings fitted with a sprinkler system. Zero. On average, it takes emergency services 10 minutes to arrive at a location and begin extinguishing a fire. In contrast, a sprinkler will operate within just three minutes, and have the fire under control within five, helping to facilitate safe evacuations.

Why do sprinklers fail?

According to research by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), 93% of sprinkler systems operate as expected in the event of a fire. What about the other 7%? Worryingly – but perhaps not surprisingly – the majority of failures are directly caused by human error. A lack of routine maintenance is responsible for 10% of all sprinkler system failures. The other 90% is shared between installing the incorrect system for the environment, manual system shutoffs, and other interventions.

Damage to the sprinkler system itself accounts for only 2% of failures. Therefore, as a property owner or facilities manager, the importance of maintaining your sprinkler system properly is abundantly clear.

Maintaining your fire protection systems

If you’re not sure where to get started with maintaining your sprinkler system – or you’re looking for a dedicated maintenance service for your annual inspection – we can help. At Eversafe, we can assess your fire protection systems for signs of damage, perform full load testing, and resolve minor issues before they become major problems. Email or call us on 01795 713123 to learn more.