Anyone involved in a construction project must comply with legal requirements for fire safety, including clients, designers, architects, and site teams. Between January 2015 and March 2019, there were 1,587 construction fires in the UK. Hot work accounted for 28% of fires on construction sites over the last decade, with overall costs amounting to £69.8m. In 2021, one claim from a hot work fire on a construction site amounted to £20 million in losses. This article is a guide to identifying and managing risks for anyone who may be responsible for fire safety on construction sites.
What causes fires on construction sites?
62.5% of construction site fires are due to accidental causes (compared to those that were started deliberately). This can include issues such as flammable waste or building materials being placed too close to hot work sites, misuse of equipment, faulty appliances and leads or careless behaviour. Hot work tools like welders, drills and heat guns are one of the most common causes of accidental fires on construction sites. Notable examples include a fire at the Real Madrid Football Club’s Stadium in 2021 during a £600 million renovation project, and the Notre Dame cathedral fire that is thought to have been sparked during restoration efforts – with repair costs being estimated at nearly $1 billion.
Fire risks on construction sites
Various physical and environmental factors can exacerbate existing fire risks, including high winds and the need for additional heating, lighting and hot work equipment. This reinforces the need for effective health and safety management on construction sites to minimise various risks:
Construction sites require specialist solutions to prevent and manage ignition risks such as electrical faults, substandard Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) and hot work. Smoking should also be prohibited, along with portable heaters, halogen and halide site lighting. Teams should ideally only use natural lighting, but if it is absolutely necessary to include additional lights they should never be covered or placed near flammable materials or fuel sources.
A specialist in fire prevention can assist with managing and reducing fire risks from fuel hazards. This can include safe storage for combustible building materials, provision of non-fire-retardant scaffolds and temporary coverings and the effective management of flammable gases, liquids, and waste materials. This should also include security measures to prevent these materials from being used by anyone intending to start a fire.
How to perform a construction site fire risk assessment
A fire risk assessment contains five steps. For larger or more complex construction sites, it’s worth it to break down your site into different key areas and apply the five steps to each zone individually.
Identifying fire hazards
Start by identifying every fire hazard on your construction site, keeping in mind that hazards may change as the project progresses. This should include all sources of ignition (such as sparks from welding), flammable building materials and sources of oxygen or flammable gases.
Identifying those at risk
If a fire occurs, you will need a clear understanding of who would be most at risk. On a construction site, this includes workers and subcontractors, site visitors, and architectural and design teams. Special consideration must be given to anyone who is potentially more vulnerable in an emergency, either because they are less mobile or because they are isolated. This includes the elderly, children, after-hours workers and night shift security.
Removing and reducing fire risks
Measures must then be introduced that either remove the fire hazards or manage their associated risks. Below are some examples of managing fire risks on construction sites:
- Using fire retardant scaffolding (compliant with BS EN13501-1:2018 – Euroclass B or C) and LPS 1215 standard temporary coverings.
- Removing all combustible materials from areas where hot work is performed. Wetting down is also advisable to help reduce fire risks associated with hot work.
- Disposing of site waste regularly. Waste materials must be immediately moved out of work areas into a secure, designated space away from sources of ignition.
- Reducing or replacing combustible building materials with safer alternatives during both the design and construction phases.
- Signposting all available exit routes on the site clearly, and keeping these routes clear of debris, equipment, and extraneous building materials.
- Ensuring that there suitable and sufficient firefighting equipment on-site, including fire blankets and extinguishers. Note that your site may require water, dry water mist or foam for wood, paper, and other Class A materials.
- Implementing a compliant compartmentation strategy. This may include using temporary and permanent FD30 fire doors with self-closing devices.
- Installing vertical and horizontal fire barriers, especially on high-rise buildings. Fire separation materials should also be used in areas where the construction site is close to nearby structures.
Documenting fire safety installations and training
Whoever is responsible for fire safety should keep comprehensive records of fire risk evaluation and protective measures, as well as any incidents if you have more than 5 persons working on the site. In addition, they must create emergency evacuation plans, install compliant signage for exit routes and fire safety procedures, and make all people on site aware of these measures. Finally, it’s required that all staff on-site are trained in appropriate fire safety and evacuation procedures, including emergency incident responses.
Regular reviews and updates
The final step in performing a fire risk assessment is to regularly review and update the assessment as needed. This should be performed at regular intervals during the project, especially when new teams arrive onsite or when significant changes to the site have occurred.
CLM Fireproofing are experts in commercial and residential passive fire protection compliance in the UK, with a proven track record for fire risk surveys and solutions for the construction industry. In addition to providing the expertise needed to perform a fire risk survey, we provide everything your construction site needs to create a safe and compliant workplace. To find out more, contact the CLM Fireproofing team today.