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Fire Safety on Construction Sites
Fire Safety / Fire Engineering is used to protect buildings and their occupants from fire. However, fire safety and the protection of people and buildings should start before the construction phase, an area that is sometimes overlooked. A fire at this stage can have devastating effects, both in terms of life safety and property protection. The commercial impact on a site fire is often underestimated. This bulletin will discuss the general matters relating to fire safety on construction sites.
There is specific legislation which covers construction sites, much of which is Health and Safety based. The primary legislation that controls H&S (incorporating fire safety) on construction sites is the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 may also have legislative requirements in given circumstances. The legalities relating to what applies and when is complex, with the size, length of contract, working hours on site, whether any part of the site is occupied, amongst other factors all having an impact on the legislation applicable. However, some of the general issues relating to construction site fire safety are common and these are discussed below.
Construction sites, by their very nature, are dangerous places and this is very true when we make reference to fire. As the building progresses the danger can increase, large spaces can be created whereby significant fire spread can occur, with none, or very few of the fire protection features installed, that will be required for full occupation in order for the building to be deemed safe. It is duly noted that many of the risks associated with occupied buildings are not present, for example, the full occupancy as well as furnishings and the activities people undertake that present a risk, e.g. cooking. However, very different risks are present. These include risk associated with the construction process, such as hot-works, waste production and construction material storage. Secondary risks such as arson (particularly associated with waste) can not be ignored.
In principle, the process of achieving appropriate fire precautions on construction sites does not significantly differ to occupied buildings. Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) should be adopted, with a view to remove, reduce and control the identified risks. Similar to an occupied FRA, much of the risk can be brought down to a tolerable level by managing the risk and applying mitigating measures. For example, if ‘hot works’ are taking place, the risk must be addressed, as such; could the hot work be undertaken off site, or away from the main structure? If not, it must be ensured all combustible materials are moved away from the work area. Portable fire-fighting media must be readily available and consideration of the means of escape (should a fire occur) must be undertaken. If the risk is still deemed to be excessive, measures such as building a fire resisting enclosure around the hot work area could be adopted. Other measures, including post hot work inspections and ensuring the most appropriate hot work method are used will assist in reducing the residual risk.
The example above is relatively simple, however it does demonstrate some key issues and the common process that can be taken from a typical FRA to a construction site.
The vast majority of fire safety matters required in typical buildings will be required in construction sites also, albeit in a different form. For example, a fire alarm system may be required in the finished building, whereas during the construction phase, a ‘rotary hand bell’ may be acceptable. Another example comes from protected escape stairs, these are likely to be required on completion, with scaffolding forming the temporary stairways throughout the build. Some of the specific issues that must be considered within the construction FRA process include:
- Formulation of a dynamic emergency plan (the site will constantly change)
- Risks presented by construction plant
Electrical risks (temporary installations, potential overloading etc)
- Arson / site security
- Control of fuel sources
- Waste control / reduction
By-products of construction materials, creating dusts / readily ignitable materials
- Material storage (security / arson as well mixing of flammables with ignition sources)
- Protective coverings on finished materials
- Scaffold sheeting (scaffolding may well form part of the escape route)
- Demolition risks – possible ignition with combustible materials
- Maintaining Fire Service access (changing site)
- Temporary Buildings (site huts etc)
- Existing occupancy (refurbishment projects etc)
- Hot works
A key to all fire safety issues on construction sites is the need for flexibility and all assessments to be reviewed regularly. An escape route one day, may be removed by temporary hoardings the next.
As the building evolves, the risks will change and therefore the compensations features must change with it also.
If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment with one of our senior fire safety advisers – simply call Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663