Construction sites and refurbishment projects are at a heightened risk of fire, with the potential to pose danger to life, health and property. The aim of this guide on HSG 168 – the Fire Safety in Construction guidance by the HSE, is to detail to all relevant parties of a construction/demolition project ways to reduce particular workplace hazards and reduce the overall risk of fire on site via proactive measures over ignition and combustion risks.
What is a Fire Risk?
For the purpose of complying with HS 168, it is fundamental to understand just what a fire risk is. Simply put, fire risk is the chance of a result of fire from any given location, procedure or process, as well as the overall extent of expected damage of the said fire.
When tackling any sort of risk assessment, the difference between the terms ‘hazard’ and ‘risk’ should be noted, but also, how they relate.
Hazard or Risk?
The risk of fire is the overall potential of an outbreak of fire, whilst a hazard is something with the potential to cause injury and/or damage from the fire. The control of fire hazards is important, as uncontrolled hazards share an interplay with risk, insofar that uncontrolled hazards are likely to significantly increase the risk of fire.
Often, though not always, a fire hazard will be items and/or materials that can be identified as a potential fuel or ignition source of fire – refer back to The ‘Fire Triangle’. Fundamentally, removing one side of the fire triangle can significantly reduce the risk of fire starting and being sustained, or eliminate the possibility entirely.
Though the practicalities of building and construction sites can add significant challenges to implementing certain control measures – the nature of heavy machinery, tools and fuel sources means they will always pose some risk – this guide will assist you in identifying fire hazards that are present on construction sites and control measures to consider.
The Legal Side
The primary pieces of legislation covering fire safety for construction sites to be aware of are the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM), which details the duties regarding fire safety arrangements, as well as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) (England and Wales), which specified who is responsible for the enforcement of CDM.
A principal contractor of a site should ensure that any fire risk assessments are conducted compliantly with the relevant fire safety legislation of the country that the construction project is to be conducted within. The relevant legislation includes:
- Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (FSO) (England and Wales)
- The Fire Safety (Scotland) Act (Scotland)
- The Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010
In England and Wales, the FSO covers fire safety in all buildings except single private dwellings, and in respect of construction sites, is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive.
Addition Helpful Resources
Further free guidance on the subject of fire safety for construction sites include:
- HSG168 Fire Safety in Construction – Guidance for Clients, Designers and Those Managing and Carrying Out Construction Work Involving Significant Fire Risks
For further guidance on all legal requirements relating to CDM 2015:
Construction Site Fire Hazards
As mentioned in the introduction, adequate site management of a construction site means that control can be exercised in relation to fuel and ignition sources, and when removed or controlled, the risk of fire is significantly reduced.
If combustible materials are absolutely necessary for use on-site, control measures should be in place to limit the use and quantity of the material in question, to limit the probability of fire. Several flammable materials are commonly used or stored on construction sites, that could be used to fuel and sustain a fire, including:
- Covering materials and sheets
- Site waste
- Lubricating oils
- Scaffolding boards
Flammable Liquids and Gases
Hot work and cutting may mean that it is necessary to store and use fuel – such as liquid generator fuel or liquid petroleum gas (LPG) – on the construction site. The responsibility of the management of such fuels falls to the site manager and their duties include:
- Acquiring the correct fuel
- Use of flammable fuels
- Refuelling and other hazardous operations
Waste Products and Materials
Where possible and practical, waste should be minimised and disposed of as quickly as possible; this includes both packing and waste materials from construction processes – of which, management should frequently inspect site areas to determine whether effective disposal is being practised, with relevance to the site’s internal waste management plan.
The use of plastic waste containers should be outlawed immediately, and disposed of, to be replaced with metal containers. Plastic containers are much more flammable than metal equipment, with plastic having a much lower melting point, providing accessible fuel for a fire, as well as the potential for the release of toxic fumes and emissions into the workplace atmosphere.
For construction sites where oils and grease are used, cleaning rags can create the possibility of spontaneous ignition when they are stored together and contain interactive contaminants. As a result, all oil cleaning rags and materials should be immediately disposed of.
Combustible Building Components
A basic but crucial aspect of construction site management and safety in the control of combustible materials: not exceeding the quantity required for a single day’s work and any storage of such combustible materials should be severely limited, with a gap of at least 6-10m between every fuel package.
Though it may seem obvious, it is also vitally important to practice good control to not leave ignitable substances in close proximity to fuel packages and ensure all flammable packaging is removed, also. Such good practice is particularly useful when constructing/renovating largely wooden structures, such as multi-storey timber frame buildings.
Covering Materials and Fire-Resistant Scaffolding
It is crucial to understand that even combustible materials verified as being fire resistant and fire retardant should be stored in limited quantities and should be worked on remotely, where possible.
The materials that are required to be stamped as ‘fire retardant’ include:
- Protective covering intended for floors, walls and ceilings are to be tested against LPS 1207
- Temporary covering materials are to be tested to the LPS 1215 standard, meaning that the flammability of the covers should not add to the risk of fire
- Timber scaffold boards are to be marked as ‘Firesafe’, detailing that they have been treated in accordance with BS EN13501-1:2018 – Euroclass B or C. Although the boards still have the potential to combust, the treatment processes they are subjected to prior to use means that they have some protection.
Management must also control the most common ignition risks, including:
Site access should be controlled strictly and surveilled all day and night. Many arsonists are criminals of opportunity, therefore minimising the chance for an arsonist to target your construction site is the duty of the designated manager and include the effective disposal of waste.
Electrical installations and portable electrical equipment must go through regular testing, inspection and commissioning before use. Management should consider scheduling frequent PAT testing in line with HSG107 guidance.
Any process that involves the generation of heat from a naked flame, sparks, electrical arc, grinding or the use of bitumen boilers will be known as hot work. Management will be responsible for the safe practice of hot working, including forbidding the use of acetylene on-site, unless necessary for the function of the business.
Protection systems for the onset of lightning should be installed where appropriate and tested annually.
Portable Heating Systems
Should only be permitted when absolutely essential and should then be determined under the same category as hot work, which will then need an assessment to be made of the location and suitability of the heater.
Designated smoking areas should be provided away from the main area or work, or prohibited entirely.
Want to know more? Find out what the top 5 common causes of fire in the workplace in the UK are.
Control Measures Against Fire On Construction Sites
All construction phase plans designed by the principal contractor must include fire safety and emergency processes for the construction site. Important foreseeable fire emergency evacuation plans must include:
- A suitable number of emergency routes and fire exits that are to be kept clear of obstruction and installed with emergency lighting, where necessary
- Appropriate signage install across exit routes
- Fire-fighting equipment, fire alarm and detection systems must be installed
- Employees to be trained and instructed on the appropriate use of fire extinguishers and other fire-fighting equipment
Fire Alarm and Detection Systems, Fire-Fighting Equipment and Exit Routes
The risk of fire can be managed appropriately on construction sites via implementing the right protocols and installing the necessary fire safety equipment. Fire detection and alarm systems will provide your site with early detection and warning to potential fires, as well as alerting the emergency fire services and warning employees to begin the agreed evacuation procedure.
Fire-fighting and protection equipment will be useful in event of a construction site fire, including fire extinguishers and fire blankets. Docking bays and storage areas for such items should be plotted and installed appropriately to tackle the most likely types of fire, as fire extinguishers are colour-coded and specify to the user which type of fire they are designed to be used on.
Even though complying with the CDM and HSG 168 may seem difficult at first, it is vital that construction site management take the weight of their duties and responsibilities seriously, as it ensures the protection of life and property.
Site management should be implemented effectively and efficiently to guarantee the best practice has been established. Should you face difficulty in adhering to fire safety provisions or putting them into practice, you can request guidance from the professionals here, at Evacuator Site Alarms.