Fire Safety in Construction
Construction sites are well known to be hazardous environments, which means that there are numerous health and safety considerations for all workers. Among the machinery, materials and working height issues, it can sometimes be easy to forget that fire is still a very significant risk, especially if the building’s fire safety measures have not yet been installed.
Whether you’re responsible for construction fire safety or just work in this kind of environment, it’s very important to be aware of what might cause a fire and how you can keep yourself and your colleagues safe. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the main points to note when it comes to fire safety on construction sites.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is a piece of legislation that deals with fire safety on construction sites, and it must be fully understood by anyone responsible for site safety. Under law, there must always be a ‘responsible person’; usually the principal contractor or similar.
The responsible person on a construction site has a duty to protect all employees, anyone allowed to be visiting the site, and any people in the general vicinity of the area. They are required to reduce or remove any fire hazards and risks from the site, as well as implement fire detection and warning measures and provide the necessary firefighting equipment.
A key part of fire safety in construction is understanding where the risks of fire are present around the site. Not only is this an important aspect of a risk assessment, but it also helps you to understand what you need to look out for when you’re working on or supervising the site.
The majority of risks to fire safety at construction sites are either ignition sources or fuel sources. Here are some of the most common examples of each that you might find in a construction environment.
Controlling ignition sources as part of fire prevention on construction sites mainly involves prohibiting certain behaviour and ensuring that machinery is used correctly and maintained. Smoking on site should be banned and appropriate measures should be put in place to avoid trespassing that might lead to arson. Employees should use equipment that produces heat or sparks safely and away from potential fuel sources, and any faulty equipment should be fixed immediately.
The best way to manage fuel sources to ensure fire safety in construction is through the proper storage or disposal of any flammable materials. Fuel sources need to be kept far away from ignition sources, and any flammable rubbish needs to be quickly moved and disposed of so that it doesn’t become a fire hazard.
Another method of fire prevention involves using fire-resistant materials in place of flammable ones, such as sheeting or coverings that go on scaffolding or machinery.
You can read more official guidance about managing the common fire risks on construction sites on the HSE website.
When it comes to fire prevention on construction sites, you need to be aware of four main areas that will help you to prevent fires from starting and ensure that action is taken quickly if one is spotted or discovered.
The risk assessment should be carried out in advance of anyone working at the site, and it may need to be regularly updated if elements of the site change. This is a very important element of fire safety in construction work that seeks to determine what might cause a fire in a particular location and how severe that situation would be.
This construction fire risk assessment informs all other parts of the fire safety procedure, which means it is essential to do this comprehensively. Things that should be considered include hazardous substances, hazardous activities, vulnerable people, and any training required.
If you’re responsible for completing the risk assessment, you must ensure you fully understand all requirements before this is completed. It’s also important to keep a record of your findings so that you or other people can refer to the risks that have been identified and how they have been managed.
Means of escape are a critical part of any fire plan. In buildings, it is a legal requirement to have appropriate signage directing people to an assembly point in the event of a fire, and there must be clear paths out of the building.
This is more difficult on construction sites, but is still a major consideration.
Using the risks identified in the risk assessment, those responsible for fire safety will need to establish the safest and quickest ways off the site, or to a safe area of the site, in the event of a fire. As part of this, there should also be a designated fire assembly point, which allows registration to take place to ensure that everyone is accounted for.
As part of ensuring that everyone can evacuate safely, there needs to be a method in place for giving a warning that a fire has broken out in a section of the construction site. Depending on the stage of construction, there may not be infrastructure for a comprehensive fire alarm system.
As a result, additional measures will need to be implemented. There are various options that construction sites use, but in all cases they will need to be loud and distinctive so that anyone on site can hear them.
Everyone must also know in advance the meaning of the sound. Whistles, klaxons, air horns and other equipment are frequently used and should be tested weekly to ensure that they still function as required.
Fire alarms or other means of giving warning need to be readily available for anyone to use if a fire is spotted. There should also be a process for contacting the emergency services when a fire is spotted or discovered so that you ensure that they arrive as quickly as possible.
Finally, there is the consideration of fighting the fire. This is not something that should be attempted in all situations. Again, the risk assessment is critical here, because this is what will determine any fire-fighting measures taken and the construction site fire safety equipment that is needed.
The most common piece of equipment used for fighting fires is a fire extinguisher. There are many different types of fire extinguishers on construction sites, each one intended for specific types of fires. Only by understanding the specific fire hazards in construction sites can you decide which extinguishers are required.
Two of the most common fire risks on construction sites are flammable materials and ignition sources like lights, heaters and naked flames. When these two fire risks are stored close together, the risk of a fire is radically increased.
The person responsible for enforcing fire precautions on a construction site is usually the principal contractor. By law, they have a responsibility for keeping anyone else on the site safe, which involves implementing fire safety procedures and fire prevention measures.
Fire stopping is also known as compartmentation and is a method of passive fireproofing that is used in construction. It involves using fire-resistant material to fill in joints and openings between walls and floors, which helps to inhibit the spread of fire around a building.
Working on a construction site requires a lot of different health and safety measures, from dealing with work at height to ensuring that dangerous materials are properly handled and stored. Fire presents a significant risk on a construction site, as it not only can destroy the work that has been done but can also impact the area and people around the site as well if a fire isn’t properly controlled.
Construction sites present a range of fire risks, especially when demolition work is taking place. If you’re the person responsible for fire safety in building construction then it’s essential that you understand what is part of fire safety, but everyone working in this environment should be aware and know what is required of them.
If you’re looking for more information about fire safety, we offer a comprehensive online ‘Fire Safety Training’ course for those looking for a good understanding of the subject.