By Simon Iliffe, Unimutual Risk Manager
The people of London who had managed to survive the Great Plague in 1665 must have thought that the following year could only be better. Sorry – Wrong. In 1666 the Great Fire of London swept through the central parts of the English capital from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities, leaving 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants homeless.
Building codes, fire regulations and technology have improved significantly since the Great Fire of London and where implemented and adhered to, the risk of a large fire is considerably reduced. Unfortunately, non-compliance with building codes and regulations, whether intentional or not is an all too common occurrence and can lead to devastating effects, as was the case in the recent highly publicised Grenfell Tower fire. There have been numerous other examples of compliance and design failures which have resulted in large building fires including but by no means limited to the Docklands fire (Lacrosse building), the Torch Tower (a very unfortunate name) in Dubai, the apartment block fire in Azerbaijan – just to name a few.
The mutual is not immune to the impacts of fire which constitutes one of the larger exposures and cost centres so far as claims and losses are concerned. Do you know what the chance of a fire impacting a member in any given year is? No! Read on:
What does the mutual’s experience tell us about the types and causes of fires that occur in University buildings? A review of the data suggests that approximately:
Is there a trend in relation to the location of fires on a university campus? Yes – the claims history indicates that electrical and chemical fires most commonly occur in laboratories and research centres. Funnily enough fires resulting from cooking activities occurred in either commercial kitchens or student accommodation. Interestingly, a number of data centre fires have originated in the battery banks of the Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS). Often the greatest damage in these instances is not the fire, rather the discharge of the fire suppressing gas. Bushfires speak for themselves and fires occurring as a result of arson or misadventure did not show clear trends but were often due to rubbish bins and combustibles being left adjacent to buildings and in some cases were started in unoccupied buildings.
Many of you would have had some involvement with our risk engineering program and not surprisingly we tend to have a strong focus on those risks which could lead to a fire as they tend to be high cost events which impact our reinsurers and significantly interrupt member business operations.
There are three angles from which we can fight the fire threat – Housekeeping and Maintenance, Detection and Protection and Design and Specification. Here are a few front line fire tips under each of those headings.
Housekeeping and Maintenance
Detection and Protection
Design and Specification