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Construction site fires risk lives and damage property. You can implement control measures to limit hazards, prevent fires and prepare for an emergency. We’ve picked some of the best methods to keep your site safe and have broken them down in this guide.
Fire Hazards In Construction
Fire hazards threaten workers daily, and they fall into two categories: ignition hazards and fuel hazards. These two elements must be present with oxygen for combustion. So understanding and removing them will help prevent fires on your site.
What Are Ignition Hazards?
Ignition hazards are things that could produce the heat required to light fuel. Common examples found in construction include:
- Electrical faults
- Hot work
- Portable heaters
What Are Fuel Hazards?
Fuel hazards are materials that could catch fire and sustain it. These products include:
- Flammable building materials like timber
- Flammable liquids or gases like petrol or propane.
Fire Control Measures In Construction
Your site needs measures to reduce the risk of an outbreak and tackle it, and there are several products and strategies available to you. Employ a combination of them to have many layers of protection.
Fire extinguishers allow you to fight fires. Having them available on your site and training your staff to use them means you can put out fires before they escalate.
However, you need various extinguishers to counter different fires. If you use the wrong type, it can have disastrous consequences. For example, using a water extinguisher on an electrical fire risks electrocuting yourself. In the UK, there are six classes of fire:
- Class A: Combustible materials fires, potentially involving textiles, straw, or paper.
- Class B: Flammable liquid fires involving petrol, fats, or tar.
- Class C: Flammable gas fires involving methane, propane, or natural gas.
- Class D: Flammable metal fires involving aluminium, metal, and potassium.
- Class F: Cooking-related fires involving deep-fat fryers or pans.
- Electrical Fires involving electrical appliances and components.
Then there are different types of extinguishers:
Water extinguishers spray water on a fire to cool and extinguish it. They are used against Class A fires.
Foam extinguishers spray foam that separates the fuel from the flames to put them out. They fight Class A and B fires.
Powder extinguishers spray a powder to smother and suffocate a fire. They are effective against Class A, B and C fires and are often known as ABC extinguishers.
CO2 Extinguishers spray carbon dioxide to replace the oxygen the fire needs, suffocating it. These extinguishers safely fight electrical fires.
P-50 Extinguishers last around twice as long as traditional options and can resist harsh conditions.
Wheeled Extinguishers can be larger, allowing you to tackle large fires in many locations.
Your alarms are crucial for alerting people so they can evacuate. UK law requires suitable fire detection and alarm system on your premises.
In the modern world, wireless fire alarm systems provide the best solution for almost all situations, particularly on construction sites. They are reusable and can be installed easily, plus you can add more devices to adapt the system to your needs.
A smoke or heat detector triggers the alarm when it identifies a fire. Choosing whether to use a heat or smoke detector depends on where it is placed. A heat detector suits areas prone to smoke or steam where a smoke detector would be susceptible to false alarms.
The Regulatory Reform Act 2005 requires responsible persons to provide suitable evacuation routes off their premises to a place of relative safety. These routes must be simple, clear, appropriately signed and well lit so people can easily follow them. They must be free of obstacles and hazards like electrical wiring that could threaten the route’s safety.
HSE 168 regulates the maximum travel distances from work areas to a place of safety, which could be a protected staircase. These distances vary depending on the level of fire hazard:
Building sites often have temporary staircases that could form part of the escape route. They must be protected, so separate them from the building with an external wall. Any openings less than 1.8m away from the staircase or less than 9m below it, must be able to withstand fire for 30 minutes.
Everyone on the site needs to know evacuation plans. As construction grows and develops, your routes will likely change, so you must reroute them and retrain site members on the changes. Ensure that your means of escape is accessible for those with impairments.
Having the appropriate signage notifies people of the hazards on the site and the procedures to mitigate them. Under the Regulatory Reform Act, workplaces must signpost fire-fighting equipment, means of escape and emergency exits. You might also signpost fire doors that need to be kept shut and provide information on reporting and responding to emergencies.
To respond to accidents, you must have first aid facilities. The HSE legislation requires each site to have a first aid kit that can cater to the number of workers on the site, a designated person in charge of first aid and information identifying this individual to workers.
Hot Work Permits
Hot work is any process that generates heat and is commonplace in construction. It could be welding, grinding, using open flames or many other activities. You must take precautions surrounding these practices to avoid accidents.
Only use hot work when it is necessary. Reducing its occurrence decreases the risk of fuel being lit. Monitor every use to ensure a quick reaction to any complications.
Create hot work permits for every piece of hot work conducted on your site to ensure that everyone working in affected areas is aware of hazards. They should identify:
- The job location
- The dates it will occur
- The plant or equipment worked on
- The process
- Required precautions
- Emergency plans
- Required monitoring and protective equipment
- Signatures of issuing authority and supervisor
- Cancellation signature after the job is complete
Then, before starting hot work, remove all flammable materials from the area. If removal is not possible, wet the materials to prevent them from catching.
Temporary Fire Doors
Compartmentation with fire doors helps to stop a fire from spreading by containing it. On high-rise sites, compartmentation should be installed vertically and horizontally to protect escape routes and limit damages.
Use temporary fire doors during construction and then replace them with permanent fire doors after the work has finished. An FD30 fire door should withstand a fire for thirty minutes, providing sufficient time to evacuate the building.
Temporary Fire Safety Trolley
Having a mobile fire safety point protects people on your site. A fire trolley provides a site alarm, safety signage and fire-fighting equipment where everyone can assess it if required. It can be tailored to your needs and move around the site as it changes.
Power cuts are common during emergencies, especially on sites with incomplete wiring. Installing emergency lighting marks evacuation routes and guides people to safety.
Our Control Devices
We supply wireless and hard-wired fire alarms, fire extinguishers, signage, first aid equipment and much more to prepare your site for an emergency. You can even trade in your old alarms for our new ones.
Reach out to our experts if you have any questions or to start upgrading your fire safety.