Case study

Does my Pallet Racking need a Sprinkler System?

Mar 13, 2024 | Pallet Racking, Uncategorized

Recognised for their life-saving potential and effectiveness in fire control, sprinkler systems are employed globally, in many building types, with installations involving tens of millions sprinkler heads a year. Notably, of buildings equipped with sprinkler systems in operation, for every 100 of those confronted by fire, 96 were controlled by sprinklers alone as reported by The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

At WSL, we are experts in maximising storage capacity and boosting productivity through pallet racking design, with a consistent consideration to the potential requirement for sprinkler systems. You can rely on our knowledge and experience whilst being assured that our team can confidently address any reservations or concerns you may have regarding in-rack sprinklers.

So, let’s explore sprinkler systems!……

What is a sprinkler system?

A sprinkler system is a meticulously designed yet straightforward device comprising a network of water pipes leading to a pump which is connected to a water tank. These pipes lead to sprinkler heads, purposely positioned to ensure comprehensive coverage when activated. Within the sprinkler head is a thermal element containing a heat sensitive liquid which is housed within a glass tube or bulb-like casing. The thermal element holds the plug-in place to stop the pressurised water from escaping. A sprinkler is activated when the liquid within the glass casing begins to expand with heat and breaks out of the glass once a pre-set temperature has been reached. This forces the plug to come away releasing the water over an umbrella shaped cap which encourages the water to spray out.

Due to business and building variations such as size, activities, contents, and specific fire protection needs, there are different sprinkler types to consider. The four major ones include wet pipe systems (where water is constantly present in the pipes), dry pipe systems (where water is held back until a fire is detected), pre-action systems (combining features of wet and dry systems), and deluge systems (which release a large volume of water simultaneously).

Wet Pipe Sprinklers - In Rack (1)

What is an in-rack sprinkler system?

An in-rack sprinkler system is installed within pallet racking structures or shelving units to enable targeted protection within the immediate area. It serves to mitigate fires within the structure and its immediate surroundings to prevent it from spreading and causing harm or damage. There are several advantages to installing in-rack sprinklers, including……

Pinpointed Fire Prevention – In-rack sprinklers can quickly detect a local fire outbreak before swiftly engaging to put it out. This helps to curb the fires spread to adjoining racks, preventing widespread damage and the likelihood of injury.

Immediate Reaction – A fire outbreak within racking with in-rack sprinklers installed would receive a much faster response than ceiling sprinklers only. This is because detection is quicker due to the closer proximity, and this provides an earlier opportunity to suppress the fire’s spread and limit its impact.

Resourceful use of water – When an in-rack sprinkler is activated, the water spray will target the fire’s starting point, whereas ceiling sprinklers cover a wider area which uses more water and can affect a larger quantity of goods.

Built to meet your needs – However high the rack, however big the bays and whatever the storage system layout, an in-rack sprinkler system is designed to ensure maximum protection without restricting storage capacity.

Should in-rack sprinkler systems meet certain standards or regulations?

To be certain that all efforts have been made to minimise risk and that effective fire protection is in place, your in-rack sprinkler system should meet specific standards through compliance with BS EN 12845. These regulations provide specific guidance in relation to the design, installation, and maintenance of the sprinkler system. Published by the Fire Protection Association (FPA), LCP Sprinkler Rules incorporate BS EN 12845 and is extensively utilised by sprinkler specialists, which is noteworthy when seeking a sprinkler expert. Furthermore, be attentive to compliance with FM Global standards to ensure alignment to universally stretched, top-tier safety standards.

Sprinklers - In Rack

Are in-rack sprinkler systems necessary?

Whilst sprinkler installations may seem optional, in certain instances, they could be mandatory to meet legal or essential responsibility:

Mandatory under UK Regulations

In-rack sprinklers are not a universal legal requirement for every racking or shelving system; however, the applicable codes can be difficult to understand if your not familiar with them. When you contact WSL for a new racking design, we can help determine the need for sprinklers as we learn more about the size of the space, items being stored and the layout.  As well as the knowledge and expertise of your WSL racking designer and sprinkler specialist, general guidance can be sought from local authorities, fire inspectors, or building officials. A thorough warehouse assessment carried out by a professional fire safety specialist is also recommended.

Fire Safety Order (FSO) Recommendation

Where sprinklers are not mandated under regulations, a fire risk assessment which is required under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), may result in advice to install a sprinkler system. This is likely to be the case if specific risks have been identified in relation to materials being stored, the racking configuration and the warehouse layout.

Insurance Requirement

Insurers are all about minimising risks, therefore installing in-rack sprinklers could be a necessity specified by the insurer in return for adequate coverage to achieve reduced premiums and avoid insurance implications.

Peace of mind

In November of last year, a cheese manufacturing facility caught fire in Lancashire forcing its nightshift workers to evacuate the building. Whilst nobody was physically hurt, the firefighting resources it took to bring the blaze under control was substantial and the local community were impacted by the effects of smoky air pollution. Following this, the remains of the building required demolition and the facility is to be rebuilt, burdening the company with cost implications, disruptions to productivity and consequences for the redeployed workforce.

Given the disruptive potential of a fire of this magnitude, it’s probably logical to expect a sprinkler system to be a mandatory legal requirement. However, what adds intrigue to this incident is that, according to current regulations, the business was not under any legal obligation to install sprinklers.

In a recent Fire Safety Search article by Iain Cox, Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, it was stated that the installation of sprinklers could have protected the facility from the prolonged consequences of the fire, halting its progression from being a small, localised incident to a widespread and significant one. Through averting substantial fires, sprinklers help ensure the continuity of business operations, as many companies equipped with sprinkler systems will often resume normal activities within a few hours following a fire incident.

Arming your racking with a sprinkler system may not be mandatory for your facility, but it can prevent extensive costs, operational disruption, and safety risks.

Sprinklers - In Rack (3)

Do I need sprinklers if I already have fire detection and alarm systems?

Fire alarms and sprinklers have different roles, and work in different ways to protect against fire. Fire alarms are a warning system triggered by the detection of unusual levels of smoke, heat, or carbon monoxide. Their purpose is to notify people of potential fire danger, giving them the opportunity to evacuate while enabling early intervention. Sprinklers systems are activated when a specified high temperature is reached and are designed to tackle the fire at its very location. For many facilities, fire alarms alone would be deemed insufficient, which is why many insurers, or certain elements of the law insist on sprinklers in addition to fire alarms.

Whilst fire detection and alarm systems within non-domestic buildings should be designed, installed, and maintained to BS 5839 codes, employers and business owners should also refer to FSO which outline broader fire safety measures and responsibilities such as fire safety risk assessments, emergency procedures and general fire safety.

Can in-rack sprinkler systems cause difficulties?

The concept of integrating pipework along the framework of your racking system may evoke the following concerns:

Will a sprinkler system cause a physical obstruction?  

WSL design technicians have a deliberate focus on sprinkler incorporation right from the very early planning stages and use their extensive knowledge and experience to eliminate the prospect of physical obstructions caused by the sprinkler components. The racks are designed with care and consideration to ensure storage is maximised and operational needs are met, without hindrance from sprinklers.

Can sprinkler systems slow down productivity given that operators may need to take extra precautions when working near them?

Although plenty of clearance is given, operators may be extra diligent when first working with racking that incorporates a sprinkler system, however working with sprinkler heads in place will soon become second nature.

Are in-rack sprinklers at risk of accidental damage?

In-rack sprinkler systems are designed to allow adequate height clearance for operational activities and with proper training, the possibility of accidental damage is minimal.

Achieving effective sprinkler coverage with maximum storage capacity requires collaboration between the rack designer and sprinkler provider. The partnership extends from the design stage through to the build to enable the safe and effective installation of both systems. The outcome is a sprinkler system that enhances safety whilst being incorporated into a space saving, productivity boosting storage solution.

Sprinklers - Downpipe (1)

Can in-rack sprinkler pipes freeze?

It’s reasonable to expect your in-rack sprinkler system to effectively perform its given function all year round, however the winter months may give rise to valid concerns regarding the possibility of frozen water forming within the pipes. While this is more probable with the wet pipe system as water is always present within the pipes, other systems such as the dry pipe can face obstacles in colder temperatures.  Fortunately, there are several actions you could take to help minimise the likelihood of frost hindrance to your sprinkler system….

  • Timely Professional Maintenance Checks – When carried out in the run up to winter, a thorough inspection of the entire system will help the early detection any potential issues such as condensation build up within a dry pipe system which can reduce the performance of the sprinkler system due to the obstruction to pressurised gas.
  • Ensure temperature is maintained – In general the surrounding pumphouse environment should reach no lower than 4 degrees Celsius, or 10 degrees where diesel pumps are used. Ensure the pump heaters are on and working and there is adequate power to heater tanks and units.
  • Check for excess water – Inspect the pump room floor for water pools which could indicate a leak. Ensure the area around the tank is dry and that the overflow pipe is without flowing water.

All year round and during warmer and colder months, sprinkler systems should be periodically tested and maintained. This is in accordance with BS EN 12845: 2015 + A1: 2019 and LPC Rules.

Sprinklers - Roof & Downpipe

Could the in-rack sprinkler cause water damage?

Water spray is the lifesaving function of a sprinkler system; however, water damage is a genuine concern, particularly for the goods stored close to the sprinkler head. The advantage of in-rack sprinklers is the targeted protection which limits the opportunity for widespread water damage. Total avoidance of damage may not be possible; however, the extent of the damage would be far less than a ceiling sprinkler which covers a wider area in which larger stock quantities are at risk of becoming saturated.

Are in-rack sprinkler systems expensive?

The cost of a sprinkler system will depend on the type and the scale of the project, although the investment does have several financial benefits….

  • Reduced insurance premiums – In-rack sprinklers will reduce risks.
  • Code compliance – The incorporation of in-rack sprinklers can help keep your facility in line with regulation which otherwise could result in financial penalties such as fines and legal cost.
  • Asset protection – The localised function of in-rack sprinklers means water damage is limited and fire damage is far less likely.
  • Business continuity – Because in-rack sprinklers can bring a fire under control before it can spread, the warehouse operation can avoid disruption.

For many, the in-rack sprinkler systems are seen as a critical warehouse component whether they are mandatory or not.

For further advice on storage systems with incorporated sprinkler systems, speak to WSL today! Call is on 0113 2045350 or email us at sales@wslmail.co.uk

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