Thousands of homes in tower blocks across Scotland do not have potentially life-saving sprinkler systems, a BBC Scotland investigation has found.
There are no sprinklers in flats in more than 300 high-rise buildings in towns and cities across the country, including Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Every high rise built in Scotland since 2005 must have sprinklers, by law.
But there is no obligation on councils or social landlords to fit the systems in older tower blocks.
There were no sprinkler systems in Grenfell Tower in Kensington, west London, when it was engulfed by a devastating fire last month that killed at least 80 people.
It has led to renewed calls from firefighters and politicians to retrofit the devices in high-rise buildings.
And the Scottish government has pledged to review the evidence about the effectiveness of the systems.
An independent report published earlier this year found that sprinklers were 99% effective at controlling or extinguishing fires.
BBC Scotland contacted local authorities and housing associations across Scotland in a bid to determine how many high-rise homes were fitted with sprinklers.
Of those which replied to our request, only South Ayrshire Council said it had fitted the system into flats in its tower blocks.
They were fitted in 234 homes in three tower blocks in Ayr during a refurbishment of the flats in 2003.
Fife Council, the City of Edinburgh Council and Glasgow Housing Association have sprinklers in their bin stores – a move being considered by Aberdeen City Council.
But there are no sprinklers in high rise homes operated by the following social landlords:
- Aberdeen City Council (59 tower blocks)
- City of Edinburgh Council (48)
- Dundee City Council (10)
- Falkirk Council (13)
- Fife Council (12)
- Glasgow Housing Association (67)
- River Clyde Housing Association (Inverclyde) (13)
- North Ayrshire Council (7)
- North Lanarkshire Council (48)
- Perth and Kinross Council (6)
- Renfrewshire Council (14)
- West Dunbartonshire Council (22)
(South Lanarkshire Council has not yet responded to BBC Scotland’s request)
There is no suggestion that any of the councils or housing associations are breaching fire regulations and they have reassured tenants about fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.
In response to the BBC Scotland inquiry, a number of landlords said they would act on any of the findings or recommendations made following the London fire.
Sprinkler systems can be a “cost effective and potentially lifesaving intervention in the early stages of a fire,” according to Assistant Chief Officer David McGown, of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).
Indeed, an independent report published shortly before the Grenfell tragedy found that sprinklers – or fire suppression systems – were 99% effective at controlling or extinguishing fires when they operate.
The study, which was commissioned by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the National Sprinkler Network found that they reduce damage in residential properties by 75%.
Lead author Peter Wood, of Edinburgh-based Optimal Economics, told BBC Scotland said he was confident of the effectiveness of sprinklers but he had “no idea” whether they would have prevented the Grenfell Tower fire.
He said they “very, very occasionally” do not work when they are overwhelmed by a fire but he dismissed concerns that sprinklers could be easily triggered, causing flooding as a “myth”.
“Sprinklers don’t go off on a whim,” he said. “They need heat to go off.”
According to the SFRS, many sprinklers are only triggered by heats of around 68C – 11C higher than the highest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley in California.
They said firefighters often use 15 times more water from hoses to do the same job as a single sprinkler.
Cost benefit analysis
Earlier this month Strathclyde’s former chief fire officer, Brian Sweeney, said the installation of sprinklers in all high-rise buildings should be a “government priority”.
Writing in the Sunday Post, he said: “As a rough estimate, there is currently up to 1,000 high rise blocks across Scotland, and more could be done to improve their safety.”
His comments follow a 2015 report commissioned by the Scottish government which examined the “cost benefit analysis” of fitting sprinkler systems in homes across Scotland.
It found that that the cost of fitting sprinklers in individual flats would range from around £1,000 to £3,000.
And it concluded that it was not cost effective to fit sprinklers in individual houses, but a “targeted installation” would benefit at risk groups.
People who live in deprived areas, those with drug and alcohol problems, or mental health problems, and elderly people are at greater risk from fire.
MSP David Stewart pressed the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Angela Constance, on the issue in the Scottish Parliament earlier this week.
“The cabinet secretary will be well aware from the Scottish government’s own 2015 report that almost a third of accidental dwelling fires and deaths occur in the 15% most-deprived areas, yet there have been no multiple fire deaths in Scotland where a working sprinkler system has been installed,” he said.
He told BBC Scotland he would like to see sprinklers installed in the homes of vulnerable people, which included tower blocks.
Ms Constance has agreed to meet Mr Stewart – a member of the cross-party working group on accident prevention – to discuss the issue.
The Scottish government has confirmed that the provision of sprinklers will be considered in a review of fire legislation and building regulations – to which the fire service will contribute.
Assistant Chief Officer David McGown said: “The SFRS recognises the value these installations can add whilst acknowledging that they may not be appropriate in all cases when applied on a risk basis.”
He added: “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service works closely with local authorities and housing associations to help ensure the safety of occupants in high rise buildings. The SFRS is here to support communities most notably through our free home fire safety visits.”
A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “While we continue to be confident that we have stringent building and fire safety regulations which contribute to keeping people safe, following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower it is imperative that we undertake a thorough and critical review of our regulations.
“The Ministerial Working Group overseeing this process will consider all relevant measures to ensure the safety of residents in high-rise domestic buildings, including a review of evidence on fire suppression systems.”