This month, Adair Lewis turns his attention to large loss fires in leisure centres.

IN ADDITION to their more athletic visitors, leisure centres have become popular for other social events and thus tend to have a significant number of people on the premises for a large proportion of the day.

Over the seven year period of this survey, there were 81 fires in sporting venues, 21 of which were in leisure centres. A recent survey indicates that there are some 4,271 leisure centres in the UK, suggesting that during the past seven years 1.9% of leisure centres have suffered a major fire.

Looking at the causes, the loss experience in leisure centres differs markedly from that in sporting venues as a whole. In the latter, 39.3% of large loss fires were accidental, whereas in leisure centres over a half (57.1%) of fires were the result of accidents. Another positive aspect is that deliberate fires account for 28.6% of large loss fires in leisure centres, while the arson rate in sporting venues as a whole is 40.6%. This lower figure for deliberate fire raising probably reflects the occupancy of leisure centres for long periods of the day, and possibly also their central locations and high degree of external lighting.

The analysis of the time of day when the fi res occur somewhat questions the logic of the last paragraph. The proportion of fi res that occur in leisure centres between midnight and 06:00 (when the building may be expected to be unoccupied) is less than half of those in sporting venues as a whole, whereas nearly twice as many occur between 06:00 and midday when leisure centres may be occupied. The proportion of fi res taking place in leisure centres in the evenings is also greater than for sporting venues.

It is heartening to note that the fire services encounter few impedances when they attend large fires in sporting venues or leisure centres. Access to leisure centres has not been recorded as a problem, probably because the large car parks provided to attract visitors deter poor parking in narrow streets nearby. Inadequate water supplies have, however, been reported on one occasion, presumably at a leisure centre without a swimming pool.

In the big picture, fires at sporting venues account for just 2.3% of the total losses caused by large fires, but an average loss of over £800,000 per fire confirms that they deserve to be taken seriously.

The average cost of a large fire in a leisure centre is over twice as much at nearly £1.9m, although in each case these figures are made up principally of damage to the building with about 30% resulting from business interruption.


Addressing the problems

Careful consideration needs to be given to the likelihood of deliberate fire raising at the time of the fire risk assessment. Suitable and proportionate security measures should be implemented based on the risk assessment findings, such as installing security lighting and in some cases monitoring the premises with a high quality CCTV system.

Review the fire risk assessment periodically prior to special events or tournaments, when there are proposals to change the layout of the premises and whenever there are significant changes to the potential sources of ignition and combustible materials present.

Ensure all staff are trained in how best to assist visitors with a disability in the event of fire. These procedures should be rehearsed during fire drills.

Whenever possible avoid hot work, including the use of hot air guns for the stripping of paint work during redecoration.

Cooking should only be undertaken in a properly designed kitchen in a fire compartment designed to provide at least 30 minutes’ fire resistance between the cooking area and other parts of the building. If possible, avoid the use of a deep fat fryer.

Design and manage saunas in accordance with the guidance set out in RISCAuthority Recommendations RC50: Fire safety in the construction and use of saunas.

Avoid the use of candles in massage and treatment rooms. Minimise the spread of fire by effective fire compartmentation within the building and maintain it by ensuring contractors provide suitable fire stopping, in accordance with the FPA Design Guide, around pipes and services that pass through compartment walls, floors and ceilings. Maintain the effectiveness of cavity barriers in ceiling and roof voids.

Engage competent engineers to maintain plant and equipment in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions to eliminate potential sources of ignition. Keep suitable maintenance and servicing records. Electrical installations should be designed, installed and periodically tested by a competent electrician in accordance with the current edition of BS 7671 (the IET Wiring Regulations). Inspections should be carried out on a risk assessed basis as recommended in the Periodic Inspection Report.

Provide portable electrical equipment suitable for its intended use and arrange for the items to be inspected and tested at least in accordance with HS(G) 107 and/or the IET Code of Practice for in-service inspection and testing of electrical equipment. A risk assessment should be used to determine the actual programme of inspection and testing. Where required, ensure that lightning protection is designed, installed, commissioned and maintained by competent engineers in accordance BS EN 62305.

Protect the building by an automatic fire detection and alarm (AFD) system installed by an organisation certificated by an independent UKAS accredited third party certification body to a recognised category in accordance with BS 5839-1, as determined by a risk assessment and in consultation with the insurer.

The AFD installation should be monitored by a certificated alarm receiving centre to ensure the fire service is called without delay out of opening hours.

Provide a suitable number of appropriate portable fire extinguishers, installed in accordance with BS 5306-8, and inspected and maintained in compliance with BS 5306-3. Fire extinguishers should be immediately accessible by staff – a number of staff should be trained in their use.

At the design stage, seriously consider installing an automatic fire suppression system, eg water sprinklers. Sprinklers should be designed, installed, commissioned and maintained in accordance with the LPC Sprinkler Rules incorporating BS EN 12845. Ensure water supplies in the area are adequate for firefighting, including for sprinklers where installed. Site access should be readily available to the fire service. Provide defined areas for parking cars to help ensure street hydrants and approach roads are not obstructed.

One way to put an emergency plan in place to ensure business resilience is to complete the ROBUST business continuity and incident management planning software, available free from

Adair Lewis is technical consultant at the FPA

These statistics are based on information supplied by loss adjusters to the FPA on a voluntary basis and not all insurers conducting business in the UK contribute to this dataset. They represent only sums paid out where the total loss is in excess of £100k and are deficient of losses under £100K, deductibles, underinsurance, uninsured, self-insured and captively insured components, which may be significant. In a year, total losses captured typically account for 50% of the ABI declared annual fire loss figure – which is similarly deficient of the same components (except the £100k threshold).

Share →