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The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is calling for sprinklers to be made a legal requirement in all new warehouses over 2000 sq metres as average pay outs for commercial fires break the £25,000 barrier for the first time.

Guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for fire sprinkler installation only recommends that warehouses in England and Wales should be provided with a fire sprinkler system if they are larger than 20,000 sq metres and it is not compulsory. These limited regulatory requirements mean that, according to British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Associations figures, only 20 percent of UK warehouses between 2,000 and 10,000 sq metres are fitted with fire sprinklers.

James Dalton, ABI Director of General Insurance Policy, said: "Our approach to sprinklers remains stuck in the past. While the number of fires continues to fall, it is alarming that the average cost is rising so sharply. The benefits of sprinklers are clear and it is time to make them a compulsory part of every high-risk building, particularly warehouses."

Legislation is already in place in a number of European countries to require fire sprinklers to be installed in commercial and industrial properties which are significantly smaller than current UK government guidelines. Examples are:

  • Netherlands – 1000 sq metres
  • Austria – 1800 sq metres
  • Belgium – 5000 sq metres
  • France – 3000 sq metres.

ABI figures show the average commercial fire claim has risen 165 percent since 2004 to more than £25,000.

The ABI is also making the case for compulsory sprinkler installation in all new care homes and schools. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have already brought in new regulations on sprinklers for new and refurbished care homes.

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