E-commerce boom could spark rise in warehouse blazes, warns Zurich

The number of warehouses gutted by fire increased by 42% in the year 2019/20, according to Zurich’s analysis

Zurich has warned of a potential rise in warehouse blazes as the e-commerce boom amid the pandemic has “sparked” a surge in demand for storage and distribution space.

As more shoppers turn online, Zurich says retailers are “scrambling” to secure more warehouse units, with demand for sites over 100,000 square feet up 64% last year. It has now cautioned that “outdated” rules on sprinklers could fuel an increase in warehouse blazes, however. 

The number of warehouses gutted by fire increased by 42% in the year 2019/20, according to Zurich’s analysis of the latest available Home Office data covering all 44 fire authorities in England.

It has led to renewed calls for automatic sprinkler protection to be made compulsory in all new warehouses over 2,000 square metres, roughly a third of the size of a football pitch. 

Government guidance currently only recommends sprinklers in warehouses of more than 20,000 square metres. 

Charles Bush, Zurich’s head of Property and Energy Claims, said: “Warehouses underpin the huge and growing e-commerce sector. Against the tens of millions of pounds Britons spend online every day, current sprinkler standards look increasingly inadequate. As well as posing a threat to life, warehouse blazes devastate businesses, send shockwaves down supply chains, and lead to the loss of jobs and productivity.  

“While we’re committed to helping firms of all sizes manage their warehouse risks, and recover after a fire, the government must look to address this issue too.  A failure to make new warehouses more resilient to fire risks damaging Britain’s growing e-commerce economy, and the many jobs and businesses that depend on it.” 

As warehouse risks change, Zurich said it was committed to helping small and large firms protect their businesses and assets.  

Kumu Kumar, head of Zurich Resilience Solutions, which includes Zurich’s risk engineering arm, said: “Warehouse size and usage is changing so rapidly that they are pushing the limits to which sprinklers have been tested.  We’re guiding customers through what’s proven to work.  

“Using insights based on the latest fire protection research, our risk engineers are developing sprinkler solutions for businesses and the specific warehouse risks they face.  We’re also working with customers as they build new warehouses to ensure the right fire protection is designed in at the start, supporting them at the planning stage, through to sprinkler installation and testing.”

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