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Fire safety on construction sites
Fire is an ever-present danger on construction sites across the United Kingdom.
The threat of fire in construction is heightened because of tasks such as electrical work, soldering and welding.
These are often performed in places where combustibles items are abundant, and escape is difficult. This risk may be compounded by a lack of passive fire protection in buildings being constructed or in buildings undergoing alteration.
Most building site fires are preventable through risk assessment, basic precautions and adherence to regulations and codes of practice.
The law on construction site fire safety
The principal legislation on fire protection for construction sites in the UK can be found in full here.
The CDM Regulations 2015 also set out responsibilities, including the obligation to avoid hazards. The danger of fire from construction site operations should be evaluated and measures implemented to manage:
- Flammable substances – the amount of combustibles present should be minimised and that which is necessary must be contained and handled responsibly.
- Ignition sources – Action should be taken to remove, minimise and monitor ignition sources on the building site. Where wood construction is employed, considerable extra precautions are necessary.
Lighting risks arise if luminaires are positioned too near to flammable substances or if they are not given time to cool down. Lighting fixtures must be mounted at a distance from flammable objects to avoid them being displaced. Halogen and older such lamps must be avoided owing to their high running temperature.
Hot work may only be conducted by qualified workers and only in the absence of a safer approach. For instance, check if bolting is a viable alternative to soldering or welding.
A key factor in preventing fire risks from hot work is to clear the environment before beginning.
This means clearing away combustible substances and liquids from the immediate space. If hot work has to be done overhead, site supervisors may have to extend this clearance zone to ensure construction site fire safety.
Building sites will have a blend of permanent electrical cabling from grid sources and power supplied by generators. Testing and inspection of all electrical systems should be performed before they are used and at adequate intervals. Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) should be a standard procedure.
Entry to a construction worksite must be tightly regulated and, if required, supervised around the clock. There are many motivations for someone to start an illegal fire on a construction site. The role of site management is to minimise the chances of an arsonist acting. Managing waste is vital as flammable materials present easy ignition points for those who are intent on destroying your construction site with fire.
If flammable substances are used in construction, the supply of such products must be restricted to the minimum necessary. There is a wide range of combustible items that can be kept or used on-site, including timber planks, waste materials, and, in traditional builds, hay for thatching.
Minimise waste and discard it as quickly as practicable. There should be periodic removal of packaging and waste products from work processes. As part of the management role, review areas for efficient removal in line with a site’s waste policy. Plastic bins must never be used.
Construction supervisors should organise night and non-working hours monitoring of building sites once construction is underway.
They might consider a mobile CCTV surveillance unit, monitored continuously by security personnel who can raise the alarm if a fire is detected. The portability feature of these CCTV systems means they can be easily moved to another construction site and used again to protect that new area.
Supervisors should verify that any security service they employ knows the fire risks associated with construction.
Fence off the site
One of the most effective ways of stopping arson in construction is to ensure that the area is secured.
Construction site hoarding offers a professional perimeter solution against unauthorised entry. From anti-social youths to jealous competitors, people out there might want to start a construction site fire that destroys your equipment and possibly even costs someone their life.
You can be extra safe with a construction site deploying security guards on the ground, part of whose job is to deter and act on fire-related incidents. You’ll want to keep a physical presence there during non-working hours when there’s a lot at stake on your site financially.
In addition to deterring acts of arson and notifying the emergency services about fires, security guards can watch for combustible materials that should be stored elsewhere.
You can never be too safe regarding your core business; eyes and ears on the ground are the ultimate defence against fire.
You need proper defence against the threat of fire on your construction site. Contact SafeSite Facilities for advice on our industry-leading equipment and services, designed to keep fire at bay and safety paramount.
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