Social cost-benefit analysis fire safety in homes
This report was commissioned by the Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) of the Ministry of Security and Justice to examine policy measures that could improve fire safety in homes. The first step was to identify possible policy measures in the form of a long list. From this list four measures were selected. These were developed and the social benefits and costs of introducing them were estimated.
The four policy measures are of two kinds, each with two variants. The first kind is making domestic sprinklers compulsory; the second is laying down fire safety requirements for upholstered furniture such as sofas. In the case of compulsory domestic sprinklers the two variants are compulsory fitting (a) in new build and (b) in existing homes. The fixed costs of a sprinkler system could be spread out over several apartments. Again, two variants of fire safety requirements for upholstered furniture were examined: (a) requirements such as those in force in the United Kingdom at the time of writing and (b) the same requirements but with a ban on chemical flame retardants and excluding fire safety requirements for mattresses and beds.
Both variants of the ‘compulsory domestic sprinklers’ policy measure would have social benefits in terms of damage avoided, fatalities avoided, injuries avoided and fire brigade deployment avoided, but these would not be sufficient to cover the investment cost of the sprinklers. The social benefits of domestic sprinklers could be greater than the social costs if the investment cost were to be substantially lower with no adverse effect on effectiveness.
In the case of the ‘fire safety standards for upholstered furniture’ policy measure the analyses do not produce a clear positive or negative outcome. Whether the balance of social benefits and costs is positive or negative depends on specific assumptions used in the calculations. A limitation as regards the variant excluding a ban on chemical flame retardants is that it was not possible in the present analyses to assign a value to the possible risks of using chemical flame retardants to meet fire safety requirements. It was not possible in this study to ascertain to what extent furniture manufacturers would use chemical flame retardants to meet fire safety requirements and to what extent, if at all, the chemical flame retardants used would result in increased risks to humans or the environment.
Further research into domestic sprinklers could look into specific situations where the social benefits do outweigh the social costs. More research could be done, for example, into ‘mains-fed’ domestic sprinklers, which are fed from the mains water supply and do not require a separate pump. As far as fire safety requirements for upholstered furniture are concerned, the key question is whether there is a design where the benefits robustly outweigh the costs. Further research into the use of chemical flame retardants in practice and the risks involved would be useful, as would further research into the circumstances in which alternatives to chemical flame retardants are ripe for large-scale application.
There is a separate English summary available for this report.
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